Clever sophomore pitchers Jake Twigg and Zach Garcia promise the prospect of the Jays’ post-season hopes resting largely on their right arms won’t rile them.
Twigg will take to the mound for No. 2-seeded Clever’s Class 3 District 12 semifinal date at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Clever against No. 3 seed East Newton. If the Jays advance, Garcia will toe the rubber in the District championship game Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” Garcia said. “We’ve already pitched in some big games.”
“It feels like everybody is the same age,” Twigg added about pitching against players two years older than him and Garcia. “Anymore, the competition feels equal.”
Clever (13-11) features a pitching staff heavy on sophomores. The Jays have five sophomore pitchers who have thrown significantly on the varsity this season.
“We’re excited with what we will have on the mound the next two years,” coach Justin Snider said. “But we’re relying on 15- and 16-year-old kids, so it’s always interesting and nerve-wracking at times. When you’re rolling with this many sophomores, one game can be great, but the next game isn’t and with the 15- and 16-year-old mindset, they lose all confidence. So, you’ve got to figure out something for them to get it back.”
Twigg and Garcia have gained ever-growing maturity while dealing with adversity.
Twigg endured an injury to his fingers on his right hand that limited his spring season during his freshman year to two games.
“Jake was one of our most highly touted pitchers coming in as a freshman. Then, he went undefeated as a freshman in the fall. He was 3-0 with a nothing ERA,” Snider said. “But he got hurt last spring. He had numbness in his fingers. (Doctors) eventually figured out it was carpal tunnel. He had to have a shot to (his fingers) and hasn’t had a problem with it since then.”
Twigg is 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA. Although he stands only 5-foot-6 and weighs 120 pounds, Twigg has 30 strikeouts and 13 walks over 24 innings.
“He came into this year struggling with his confidence early on,” Snider said. “Halfway through the season, though, his velocity jumped and he’s probably the hardest thrower we have now. He commands his fastball, changeup and curve ball really well. You don’t expect that from him because of his size.
“He reminds me of (former Springfield Hillcrest all-stater) Jon Barratt and I know that’s a little bit of stretch. When Jon took the mound, people always thought, ‘Oh, this kid can’t throw that hard. He’s not going to beat us.’ I feel it’s the same way when Jake takes the mound. People think the same way about Jake. When he comes out throwing a low 80s fastball, it’s a shock to them.”
Twigg no-hit Crane a week ago while fanning eight.
“I didn’t even know I threw a no-hitter until everybody told me afterward I did,” Twigg said. “I’m glad I didn’t know. It would have been in the back of my mind. If something like that is on your mind, sometimes you might feel pressured.
“I want to do the same thing (against East Newton) that I did to Crane, focus on one batter at time and mix up my pitches.”
Garcia is a 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA. He has 38 strikeouts and 18 walks over 40 innings, while winning against Buffalo, Forsyth, Hollister and Mt. Vernon. Garcia has lost his last three decisions. But he was sharp in his most recent outing, a 1-0 setback at Stockton.
Garcia values the experience he picked up while giving up six hits and nine runs to Asher, Oklahoma. Snider calls Asher the best team Clever has faced all season.
“I got to see how I am when bad things are going on and I’m not performing like I should,” Garcia said. “I would get a little frustrated and show bad body language. That game helped me greatly, learning how to get out of tough innings.”
“Recently, Zach and I have felt good about our fast ball and command of it, along with our off-speeds,” Twigg said. “We feel confident in those pitches.”
Ultimately, Snider said it was a rather easy decision for him to choose Twigg and Garcia as his starting pitchers for Districts.
“They’ve had the best stuff on the team the last month,” he said “So, that’s who we’re going to roll with."
Other sophomore pitchers who have shined at times are Nolan Hall, Sean Gilmore and Quin Gundelfinger. Hall was 1-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 17 innings, before being hit in the face by a line drive.
Looking ahead to this post-season and the next two years, the sophomores have their sights set on plenty of success.
“I think this sophomore class is the best class that has come through her in a while,” Garcia said. “We can do some big things.”