COLUMBIA — Lane Threlkeld doesn’t fit the frame of your typical strikeout pitcher.
The Muriel Williams Battle High School junior is round in the shoulders with hips like barrels and sweats through his undershirt and mesh uniform when he takes the mound. Not exactly Randy Johnson.
He makes up for lacking velocity with deception: a curveball that earned him a complete-game win Tuesday.
Threlkeld struck out nine Fatima Comets and spread five hits and three walks over seven innings in the Spartans’ 3-2 win.
“He said he felt good, so we’re gonna roll with him,” Battle coach Jared Wood said.
Threlkeld opened up in a jam when leadoff hitter Logan Vogel smacked a single up the middle and cleanup hitter Zach Hudspeth doubled him home with two outs in the first inning. After that he set down five straight Comet hitters, striking out four straight, locating his curveball with steady accuracy.
“He can throw it whenever he needs to and get a strike the majority of the time with it,” senior catcher Seth Gerardy said. “He’s not a pitcher that has to get a first-pitch fastball to get a strike in. He can go in there with a curveball and buckle the hitter and then work off of that.”
He matched it with a fastball, cutter and change-up. And it’s harder to paint the corners with off-speed pitches when Threlkeld has an underwhelming fastball.
“He’s not the kind of guy that’s gonna blow the ball by you, so he has to keep mixing it up with his change-up and his curveballs,” Wood said. “That’s why he has to continually keep hitters off balance.”
In the second inning, when he struck out the side, Threlkeld caught Hunter Hennier looking with a curveball, then fooled designated hitter Brady Weavers with a change-up.
He struck out Matt Temmen with a change-up in the fourth inning and struck out Hennier again with another curve for the second out.
“It’s challenging to put it where you want it to go, but you execute, and it works,” Threlkeld said.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Spartans (3-3) broke a 1-1 tie with three straight base hits. Gerardy singled to left, and sophomore shortstop Mason Hunter doubled down the right-field line.
Jack McNellis singled home Gerardy four pitches later, and freshman Tre Morris scored Hunter with a sacrifice fly.
The Spartans’ lineup has been inconsistent in situational hitting scenarios, Wood said. Battle stranded five runners Tuesday, but a week ago at Rock Bridge High School, it left seven runners on base.
Threlkeld struck out the first hitter in the fifth inning, but Vogel reached on an error, and Threlkeld plunked Will Robertson to put two men on with two outs. With a first-pitch cutter, he got Hudspeth to bounce out to short.
“We got the two runs in, which was great for our confidence, and then they got two runners on,” Gerardy said. “We believed in what we’ve done in practice and worked ourselves out of a jam.”
In the top of the seventh, the Comets put the tying run on third base with two outs and brought Hudspeth to the plate. Wood said the Spartans had their closer, Hunter, ready to go if Threlkeld’s arm ran out of juice.
“We asked him coming in after the sixth inning if he’s got it, that last inning, and he shook his head in confidence, said he’s got it and went out and closed the door,” Wood said.
Jared Schulte drew a one-out walk, then stole second after Threlkeld buried a fastball in the dirt. Robertson bombed a long sacrifice fly to right, allowing Schulte to advance to third and bringing Hudspeth to the plate.
Threlkeld threw him a first-pitch curveball for a strike, then a fastball for strike two on the outside corner.
Hudspeth stared at another curveball for strike three. Ballgame.
“His curveball was there,” Wood said. “He looked comfortable up there. He looked confident up there, so we’re going to keep giving him the ball.”
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