SPRINGFIELD >> Faith Christian’s Josiah Smith admitted he was shocked at the news he got Sunday.
The junior, who had only just recently returned to the field and hadn’t pitched in a game since March, was getting the start for the Lions’ state playoff opener on Monday against District 12’s Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP). His coaches weren’t setting expectations too high, hoping for a couple of good innings, but Smith went far above what they hoped.
In a triumphant return, Smith threw five innings of one-hit ball and drove in five runs on three hits as Faith won its first state baseball game 8-2 over the Pioneers at La Salle College High School.
“I just tried to trust my defense, throw strikes and let them hit it, so I got through it,” Smith said. “I was excited the whole day just waiting. I took my final this morning, got here and couldn’t wait to go.”
Even on a senior-led team, Smith figured to be a major piece to the puzzle this season until he suffered a bad ankle injury just a few games into the team’s campaign. The junior, who pitches right-handed, managed to get back in the lineup for a few games as a designated hitter through the district playoffs.
Faith coach Ed Curry called Smith a “poker player” who doesn’t let his feeling or emotions show through on the field and that was part of the reason he wanted to go with the junior to start. The Lions hoped to get three innings out of Smith, but he was doing such a good job they let him keep going.
“It was pretty shocking,” Smith said. “I wasn’t expecting to start until yesterday, but I warmed up for it after practice, iced up after and just prepared for it.”
Smith felt he could have gone another inning, but also had trust that Parker Curry would be able to close out the game, which he did over his two innings of work. The righty struck out five hitters but did show a little rust when he hit two batters in the third inning that led to a GAMP run that tied the game 2-2.
“Just lots of off-speed,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to let their barrels get on it so I kept it off and low.”
“Josiah pitched lights-out today,” Ed Curry said. “Even not throwing for two months, we had to go with him today with the way the games lined up. He had to be the man and show us what he’s got.”
GAMP starter Erik Lipson did a nice job himself over the first five innings but didn’t have an answer for Smith at the plate. Smith tagged Lipson for a two-run single in the top of the first inning, ensuring he would pitch with a lead, and the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth.
An inning later, the Lions’ bats finally got going and Faith plated five runs in the sixth to break the game open. A squeeze bunt by Jared Forscht led to two runs on an error, Carter Heller doubled in a run and, no surprise, Smith had a big hit with what turned into a two-run single.
Smith’s hit easily scored DJ Cesario and the umpires ruled a GAMP player interfered with Heller, so he was allowed to score as the second run on the hit and giving Smith his fifth RBI of the day.
“I just tried to hit it up the middle or where the pitcher wasn’t ready and their players weren’t,” Smith said. “It ended up just working out. The pitcher I think started getting tired and we got used to his off-speed.”
Heller, the team’s senior sparkplug and ace pitcher, helped Smith out big time on his fifth inning hit. After drawing a walk, Heller swiped second on a strikeout then once Smith flared a ball to shallow center, he took off full speed and slid into home under a tag attempt for a 3-2 lead.
“Base running has really come alive for us the last three or four games and by that I mean smarter base running and higher IQ on the bases,” Curry said. “It paid off today like it did last Wednesday. I believe that was the turning point.”
About the only thing the Lions had concerns with on Monday was their fielding, where they committed five errors. Curry wasn’t overly worried, noting the time off between the District I title game and the state opener and felt now that the players are back on a routine, it would clean itself up.
Parker Curry had three hits out of the No. 8 spot while No. 7 hitter Jacob Davis had two hits, which Ed Curry said was important to getting the bats going. Those two led off the sixth with back-to-back singles, which Faith gladly used to spur a rally.
Faith Christian will face the winner of (3-1) Greenwood and (4-1) Sayre on Thursday at a site and time to be determined. Monday’s win was a momentous one for Faith Christian and while it certainly wasn’t lost on the players, they want to add a little more history to the books before this run is over.
“It means everything,” Smith said. “We’re going out to dinner, we’re going to be excited the rest of the day. After that, we’ll go home and study for finals and then move on to the next one.”
FAITH CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 200 015 0 – 8 12 5
GAMP 101 000 0 – 2 1 3
WP: Josiah Smith. LP: Erik Lipson. 2B: FCA – Carter Heller, Parker Curry. Multiple hits: FCA – Josiah Smith 3-4, Parker Curry 3-4, Carter Heller 2-4, Jacob Davis 2-3
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