Luke Bolka meticulously tended to the mound on the Atlee baseball diamond with a rake after a recent game. It had treated him just as well.
With close to a dozen pro scouts watching, many holding radar guns behind the home plate fence, Bolka struck out the side in the first, and book-ended his work by striking out the side in the seventh, giving Atlee a 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon over previously unbeaten Mills Godwin.
The Raiders (5-0) are known for going long and big offensively. But, on a day where he knew the pitching would be top notch, Atlee head coach Barry Burton found runs by any means possible.
“You’re not going to go out and bang pitching like this around, so the situation dictated it and the kids executed it to a T,” Burton said.
What they executed were back-to-back squeeze bunts with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth. Bolka and Evan Swecker roped back-to-back singles with one out, and a Caleb Myers grounder was fielded by Godwin third baseman Nick Stancil, but the throw to second for the force out was too high, drawing Brian Shealy off the bag.
It was all set up for small ball.
David Graubics laid down the first bunt straight down the third base line, catching Stancil off-guard. By the time he arrived to the ball, he slipped and fell, but Graubics had beaten any would-be throw to first and Jordan Harris, pinch-running for Bolka, was home.
Catcher Roy Coates was next, and his bunt slowly made its way toward Godwin pitcher Nick Phelps. Swecker came home to make it 2-0. A third attempt at bunting went awry, and Atlee committed two base-running mistakes that led to putouts in rundowns and the end of the threat.
But the Eagles had no answer for Bolka. Their best scoring chance came in the second, when Dane Forlines laced a one-out single to center. After a strikeout, Bolka issued back-to-back walks to Phelps and Max Vaughn, loading the bases. On his 33rd pitch of the inning, Bolka got left fielder Brandon Soden to hit into a force out at second to end the inning.
After a walk in the sixth, Burton approached the mound to gauge whether Bolka could finish the day on the hill.
“When you go out there, the first person you look at and talk to is your catcher, and if he gives you the thumbs-up, then you go to the pitcher, look him in the eye, and see what you see,” Burton opined. He liked what he saw, leaving Bolka in. He got Will Black to ground into an inning-ending double play, then struck out the 4-5-6 hitters in the Godwin lineup in the seventh to seize the victory.
“Coach came out to give me a sign of encouragement; he always tries to push me,” Bolka said after the game.
Bolka, committed to East Carolina University, spent the game staring down hitters, reading his catcher, and knowing the scouts were just feet away. The victory was Bolka’s first in 2013 in his second start and gave the Raiders big non-district wins two consecutive days. Monday, Evan Swecker pitched six strong innings, Collin Bazemore put down a seventh-inning rally for the save, and Bolka had a two-run homer as the Raiders won at Benedictine, 4-3.
After wins over two teams in many preseason top 10 rankings in the Central Region, the Raiders were going to enjoy the rest of their spring break. Because their March 28 game at Lee-Davis was postponed to this Monday due to poor field conditions, Atlee has adjusted their schedule, planning to practice twice before hitting the bus to Route 360.
Bolka, one of 11 seniors on Atlee’s roster, knows the real season begins when they take the field against Capital District foes.
“It doesn’t matter which team it is, it could be any team; there’s always going to be super-close games, no blowouts,” Bolka said.
They couldn’t have asked for better prep than vanquishing the Cadets and Eagles within 24 hours of each other.