HARRODSBURG — Rob Caudill was back where it all began, on the very same mound where he pitched for the first time in a Danville uniform.
But the pitcher who commanded the mound at Mercer County on Thursday bore little resemblance to the one who pitched for the first time in a junior varsity game at Mercer some 22 months ago.
Caudill, who said he remembers his JV debut but doesn’t recall how he pitched, had a more memorable game Thursday, when he struck out 11 batters and allowed only three hits and one walk to lead the 14th-ranked Admirals to a 2-0 victory in an early-season clash between two of the area’s traditional powers at Amos Black Field.
“I was just thinking about that driving over here today. He was a sophomore, and it was the last week of the regular season the first time he pitched. He threw an inning in a JV game,” Danville coach Paul Morse said. “He’s come a long way since then.”
“Oh, yeah, definitely, physically and mentally,” he said. “There’s a lot more to pitching than just throwing the ball as hard as you can.”
Caudill throws much harder now than he did then — he was clocked in the mid to upper 80s Thursday — but he has also shown he can get by even when his pitches aren’t going just where he wants them to.
“He started pitching more than just throwing,” Morse said.
It was the second double-digit strikeout game in as many starts this season for Caudill, who struck out 14 batters and walked only two in the Admirals’ season-opening win over Marion County on March 14.
“His average is going down,” Morse quipped.
Danville gave Caudill all the support he would need in the first inning, scoring two unearned runs on the only error of the game. The result was a hard-luck loss for Mercer (1-2), which has allowed only one earned run in 19 innings but has lost two of its first three games.
The Titans had only three hits, including two by Matthew Sims.
“It’s early, and sometimes hitting struggles early, especially when there’s a good pitcher on the mound,” Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said. “(Caudill) pitched a whale of a ballgame. He stayed in rhythm, and we kept him in rhythm. We never broke it.”
Danville had only two hits, none after the second inning.
“We knew coming into the season we had strong pitching and pretty good defense. We’ve just got to figure out how we can swing the bat and score runs,” Morse said.
Mercer’s pitchers didn’t make that easy. Starter Jackson Stoeckinger, a Henry Clay transfer making his Mercer debut, allowed two hits and six walks with five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings, and J.T. Long allowed one walk, hit one batter and didn’t allow a ball out of the infield in 2 2/3 innings.
“They got in there and competed,” Shope said.
Danville had runners on first and second with two outs in the first inning after Rhodes Bell walked and Dowell Harmon singled, and both of them scored on a throwing error on Cole Phillips’ infield grounder.
The Admirals threatened in two other innings, but the Titans never did. They were thrown out on the basepaths after two of their three hits, and only one runner made it to third base.
The first five hitters in Mercer’s lineup were 0 for 15 with nine strikeouts.
“I feel like we’ll figure it out,” Shope said. “I like this team.”
Danville 200 000 0 — 2 2 0
Mercer County 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Rob Caudill and Andrew Lasure. Jackson Stoeckinger, J.T. Long (5) and Alex Guay. W—Caudill. L—Stoeckinger. 2B—Matthew Sims (MC).