If Wednesday was any indication of the way Hazleton Area baseball team can produce runs, then the Cougars are about to live up to their preseason hype.
A veteran team that has struggled to plate runs through the first two Wyoming Valley Conference games, it took a total different approach yesterday.
It seemed like every time the Cougars came to bat, there was never a doubt they would score. Nanticoke (1-2) could sense that, too, as Hazleton Area pounded out 13 hits, en route to its most impressive offensive showing of the young season in an 8-3 win.
Unloading with three first-inning runs, Hazleton Area posted seven runs through the first five innings as it moved to 2-1 in WVC Division I East and 2-2 overall.
"That first inning took a lot of (pressure) off us," Carl Cara, the team's shortstop, said.
Matt Barletta may have thought otherwise after his extra-productive day.
"I really hadn't felt any pressure, but some of my teammates may have," said the senior centerfielder, who knocked in a career-high four runs on two base hits.
The top of the order - batters 1-through-6 - accounted for 11 of the hits. Cara, Tyler Rubasky, Barletta, Evan Vigna, Sal Biasi all had two-hit days, with Biasi having the lone extra-base smash, a run-producing double in the fifth. T.J. Chirico, Brady Wolfe and A.J. Greco also singled.
Hazleton Area set the tone in the first when Cara and Rubasky opened with singles, before Barletta singled to center plating the first two runs. Vigna delivered an RBI single moments later.
"We finally plated them," Hazleton Area head coach Gino Cara said. "But we did some pretty good things overall, which was important, too."
The coach obviously was making reference to the defense. Add the fact that Anthony Zaloga, his workhorse, slipped in a win when he didn't have his best stuff.
"I threw a lot of pitches the other day, and my arm was a little tired," Zaloga said, after his 104-pitch outing.
Cara didn't allow Zaloga to go beyond the sixth inning.
"He wanted to go that last inning, but there was no way he was getting the ball," Cara said of his right-handed ace, who gave up four singles, walked four and struck out eight before giving way to Mark Solanick in the seventh.
Wolfe opened the second with an infield hit, hustling to first after hitting a ball between the first and second basemen. Greco's groundout allowed Wolfe to take second. Wolfe then took off for third with a drawn-up corner on a heady play, before Carl Cara flied to center to bring in Wolfe.
Hazleton Area looked like it was headed for a big third inning with consecutive singles from Vigna and Chirico, but managed just one run on a Biasi single before a popup on a bunt ended in a double play.
The Trojans scored solo runs in the third and fourth, both unearned, before the Cougars rallied for two in the home fourth. Greco and Cara laced singles, Rubasky moved them with a sacrifice bunt and Barletta delivered once again with a two-run single.
"Anytime you face a Gino Cara team, you're going up a fundamentally sound club," Nanticoke coach Dean Myers said. "I knew they were in a slump (scoring runs), but today they sure looked liked the team everyone thought they'd be."
With two straight wins, Hazleton Area goes out of conference with a home game against Bethlehem Liberty on Saturday. Game time is noon.
"I'm hoping that we continue to play the way we did today and we can get our (pitchers) some work Saturday," Cara said.