Zach Bush was pretty pumped up for his Cincinnati Christian School baseball debut Monday afternoon.
The senior transfer from Lakota West had to sit out his first 13 games with the Cougars, so the left-hander was teeming with adrenaline when he took the mound against New Miami.
Bush struck out 11 in 5.2 innings and combined with Mitchell Smith on a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts as host CCS earned a 1-0 Miami Valley Conference victory at Crawford Woods.
“It got me very antsy,” Bush said of being a spectator. “Guys started calling me Coach Bush because I was just sitting there trying to teach the guys up.
“In the bullpen, I was really just trying to get all the jitters out right there, throwing everything in the dirt or high over the catcher. I’m like, ‘Oh crap, this is going to be a great game.’ ”
The only hit Bush allowed was a sharp single to right field by Kyle Kellum with two outs in the fourth inning. Bush hit two batters (one was erased on a wild pitch and throwout at third) and walked one in the sixth before departing with two outs.
Smith promptly loaded the bases by hitting Kellum, then struck out Austin Howard to escape the jam.
“A hundred and three pitches is really going to tire you with it being your first outing,” Bush said. “I was ready to come out. I’m trying to do what’s best for the team right now. Of course, (with) a pitcher’s attitude and a bulldog mentality, you always want to go as far as you can. But tonight it was definitely time for me to come out.”
Smith went 1-2-3 through the Vikings in the seventh to secure his first save as the Cougars improved to 5-9 overall and 3-6 in the MVC Scarlet Division.
CCS ended a three-game losing streak, and second-year Cincinnati Christian coach Curtus Moak likes the way his team is trending.
“We got some of our really good athletes from the basketball team late, so I knew the back half of the season would be stronger for us,” Moak said. “We could be a sleeper team that could go pretty deep in the tournament. In the second half, I think we can compete with just about anybody at our level.”
New Miami (8-6, 5-3) remains the MVC Gray leader and got a six-hitter from righty Christian Acus on Monday.
The Cougars’ lone run came in the fifth when Alec Gregory slapped a two-out pitch up the middle with the bases full. The ball glanced off Acus’ glove and went for an infield single that plated Noah Jordan.
“Both pitchers competed very well and threw a lot of strikes. I knew it was going to come down to whoever got the break, and we did,” Moak said. “We hit some line drives that were caught, then it’s the rinky-dink hit that ends up winning it all. That’s baseball.”
Acus struck out five and walked three. He issued an intentional free pass to Bush (who had a pair of singles) to load the bases just before Gregory’s game-winning hit in the fifth.
“This is a game historically that we would find a way to fall apart, but our kids battled and put themselves in a position to win,” Vikings coach Ralph Lunsford said. “I don’t think Christian was as sharp as he’s been, but I think he showed integrity and his intestinal fortitude. He told me it wasn’t easy tonight. He had to work, which is a credit to him. These seniors are like that.
“That’s a good ballclub. It’s hard to believe they’re 5-9. That’s one of the best 5-9 teams I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Lunsford was also very impressed with Bush.
“We faced a kid from Northwest that threw really well. Other than that, that’s the best pitcher we’ve seen,” the New Miami coach said. “He gets it up there in a hurry, he’s left-handed, and he stayed composed. I thought we’d get to him early when he wasn’t locating that curveball. Once he started locating the curve, he was really dominant.”
Bush said he didn’t have a bad experience at Lakota West. Transferring to CCS was “a little change of scenery.”
“Lakota West was getting a little too big for me,” Bush said. “For college, I’m hoping to go to a very small NAIA school and play baseball. I was trying to get more of the Christian experience, and a lot of opportunities opened up to me as soon as I came here.”
The Vikings are aiming for their third straight Gray championship. They currently hold a one-game lead over Seven Hills in the division and beat the Stingers 4-3 in their first meeting April 7. The teams will square off again next Wednesday.
“I thought if we got this tonight, it would have given us a stranglehold on the league,” Lunsford said. “Now I don’t think we can afford a hiccup. We have to win the ones we’re supposed to win and hopefully steal one we’re not.
“I like this team. We’re trying to raise our level. Obviously your first thing is always to win the league, but we want to try to make some noise in the (Division IV) sectional.”
New Miami will travel to Preble Shawnee on Tuesday. Cincinnati Christian is slated to host the Landmark Eagles on Wednesday.
New Miami 000-000-0—0-1-0
Cin. Christian 000-010-x—1-6-0
WP — Zach Bush (1-0); LP — Christian Acus (4-3); S — Mitchell Smith (1). Records: N 8-6, 5-3 MVC Gray; C 5-9, 3-6 MVC Scarlet
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