Atascadero High baseball coach Paul Teixeira and Templeton skipper Brad Macomber both said early season games such as Thursday’s north county contest are meant for shaking off rust, ironing out a starting lineup and working through the kinks that come with playing the first few games of any season.
Meanwhile, Mac Lardner gave everyone a glimpse of mid-season form.
The Templeton left-handed sophomore was superb on the mound, striking out 10 and keeping the Greyhounds off balance every at bat with a deceptive changeup and a knee-buckling knuckle curve.
“I was in the zone, honestly,” said Lardner, who also hit a two-run single in the first inning of the Eagles’ 6-0 road victory. “Everything was working.”
The Los Padres League Pitcher of the Year as a freshman, Lardner has been slowly ramping up his workload this season under Macomber’s guidance.
He threw just 39 pitches in the second game of the season against Pioneer Valley, and continued to build his pitch count Thursday, throwing 77 pitches — 53 for strikes — in 41⁄3 innings.
“Mac was just dealing,” Macomber said. “That’s what he does. That knuckle curve that he throws, they just kept chasing it.”
Lardner struck out the side in both the second and fourth innings, as Greyhound hitters consistently swung out in front of offspeed pitches or simply watched the ball fall right into the strike zone.
“That kid is a very good pitcher,” said Atascadero center fielder Joe Johnson, who hit a team-best .398 last year but struck out looking in his first two at-bats Thursday. “He’s got a lot of good pitches and he mixes it up very well. He can start off with any pitch, and he just doesn’t let anyone get on base.”
Junior Austin Alarcon went 3 for 4 for the Eagles (2-2), scoring the first run of the game when he and Jake Walsh were hit home by Lardner’s two-out single to right field in the first inning.
Alarcon also threw 1 2⁄3 innings of relief, getting Templeton out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning and striking out three.
Sophomore Jordan Bernal hit a two-run double in the top of the seventh and then closed out the game by striking out the side in the bottom half of the frame.
“That’s a good team win,” said Macomber, whose team begins its quest to repeat as LPL champs Tuesday against Morro Bay. “Our depth on the mound, we don’t really know that yet. We don’t know if we have any depth until we put a guy like Alarcon in.”
Junior Holden Nix started on the mound for Atascadero (1-3), striking out one, hitting a batter and allowing four hits in three innings.
“He was throwing fine and we would have left him in there if it was a regular season game,” Teixeira said. “Basically, we were just trying to get all of pitchers work to see where we’re at.”
Ty Townsend struck out four in three innings of relief for the Greyhounds, keeping the score close after Jeffrey Hammond drove home Clay Villars in the top of the second to put the Eagles ahead 3-0.
That was all Templeton needed with Lardner dealing.
The 6-foot-2 southpaw gave up an infield single in the third and that was it until the fifth, when Tyler Moore tagged him with a one-out single to left field and Townsend hit a full-count double to the gap in right-center. Lardner walked the next batter, Dylan Casebolt, to load the bases, and that’s when Macomber turned to Alarcon.
Not big in stature or pitching speed, Alarcon utilized a looping curveball to strike out Kyle Townsen and get Dante Coppo to pop out to second base to escape the inning.
“I knew he had the guts to do it … and in the high school level, if you can throw a curveball for strikes, you can be effective,” Macomber said. “He has the guts to pitch out of situations and he got us out of a jam there.”
The Greyhounds also put the first two runners on in the sixth, but once again Alarcon preserved the shutout by getting a pair of strikeouts and a fly out to center field.
“We had our chances,” Teixeira said, “but when you strike out 16 times, you’re not going to win many ball games.”
Atascadero opens PAC 7 play March 25 when it hosts defending league champion Arroyo Grande.
“It’s just a learning progression right now,” Johnson said.
“We’re just getting a feel for who’s going to play at what position. It’d be nice to win these games, but getting ready for league is really what they are here for.”