HARRISONBURG — The Bridgewater Reds have mastered the game of one-upmanship.
Left-hander Josh Mitchell threw a six-hit, six-strikeout complete-game shutout against Luray in a Rockingham County Baseball League game last weekend, and then challenged right-hander Robert Gallet to do better.
“I just threw a shutout Sunday,” Mitchell said. “I told Gallet, ‘Let’s see if you can now do it.’”
Gallet’s response: a 12-strikeout, four-hit shutout against Broadway on Tuesday.
“We got a good corps of good pitchers right now, a couple of Bridgewater College guys and a couple of veteran guys keeping us in games since we haven’t had a lot of hitting,” shortstop Josh Wright said.
The Reds have scored a league-low 20 runs through five games, but because of their pitching, they are 4-1, including wins over Clover Hill and Stuarts Draft, the teams they were tied with entering Wednesday night’s contests.
Just three pitchers — Mitchell, Gallet and Kyle Henshaw — have combined to eat 44 of the 45 innings, and they’ve all been stellar. The team has allowed just 13 runs (nine earned).
“The one area that’s not took off has been our offense,” manager Charlie Shepard said. “But, you know, we’ve got a [1.80] team ERA. We’re pitching well, we’re playing great defense, so right now, we’re just finding ways to score runs to win.”
Gallet and Henshaw just completed their senior seasons at BC while Mitchell, 25, was a Stuarts Draft High School pitcher who did not throw in college.
Four years ago, Mitchell decided to play for Bridgewater instead of Draft because, he said, he wanted “a new environment.” The Reds weren’t very good back then, but Shepard has built the team in progressive steps.
Back to the idea of one-upmanship: Each year under Shepard, the Reds have performed a little bit better than the last.
In 2011 they improved enough to make the semifinals. In 2012, they beat Clover Hill in the semis to reach the championship series, where they lost in six games to Draft.
“I’m not going to throw around predictions,” Shepard said. “I hope that the success that we had last year keeps carrying over. We’re off to a good start.”
Bridgewater has hit just one home run, and undoubtedly will need more power to overcome teams like the Bucks and Diamondbacks when it matters most. For now, though, they’re making do with station-to-station offense, led by outfielder Travis Ashby, who is batting .389.
Wright, the team’s top all-around player, has participated in only two games because of work commitments and has yet to record a hit. Kevin Bocock, a typical top-of-the-order threat, has just one hit in two games. Reliable catcher Tyler Hoffman is batting .188. Daniel Heatwole, an All-Star in the past, is at .250.
So, there’s room for improvement with this offense.
Shepard said that “mentally” the team is already in midseason form, and more confident than it was last year.
Physically, however, they’ve yet to hit their stride.
That’s OK for now, because Mitchell, Gallet and Henshaw haven’t needed very much run support.
Bridgewater shocked the RCBL last year when it dethroned Clover Hill following five straight Bucks titles. Now the Reds have their eyes on the next progression.
“In my eyes, we won our championship when we took Clover Hill out, so I think the majority of us felt like we did our job,” Mitchell said of last season. “I’d love to beat [my friends at Draft], get some bragging rights. I felt like it was a good year. But yeah, I’d like to take that next step and win the championship.”