BELOIT -Prior to each at-bat for West Branch's Brenden Wells, a voice can be heard bellowing two simple words: have fun.
The voice is from his grandfather, and the meaning behind it is to ensure his grandson remembers why he's playing the game.
"He has always came to my games, he loves watching baseball and he just wants me to stay loose," Wells said. "It relaxes me a lot when I hear him say it and I just focus in."
It must work, as Wells collected three hits and three runs scored to help the Warriors (4-8, 3-4) to a 8-1 win over rival Salem (6-6, 3-4) on Tuesday afternoon.
"Baseball is a team game, so I just try to do anything I can to help the team," Wells said.
The future member of the Marshall Thundering Herd also made a sliding grab in right-center field to preserve a then no-hitter for his starting pitcher, Jeff Vizzuso.
SA: 0-1-0-0-0-0-0 -1-1-2
WB: 1-0-3-0-0-4-x -8-10-3
SA -Alex Weikart lp (5 2/3IP, 8R, 10H, 3K, 5BB), Max Wolfgang (1/3 IP, 0R, 0H, 0K, 0BB) and Jake Carner
WB -Jeff Vizzuso wp (7IP, 1H, 1R, 10K, 1BB) and Jake Smith-Dylan Greenawalt
"He can just flat out play," West Branch coach Shawn Alazaus said. "He comes to the field every single day for practice and games and hustles and does everything the right way. He's a great leader and a tremendous baseball player."
Vizzuso finished his outing surrendering just one hit, a single to right by Jordan McGuire in the seventh inning.
"I had no idea that I had a no-hitter going because of how things might be ruled," Vizzuso said. "I just pitched the ball like I should and didn't think about anything but throwing strikes."
The junior hurler threw many of them, and had fanned 10 Quakers by the time the final out was recorded.
"He threw the ball very well, he had an overpowering fastball and threw strikes," Alazaus said. "We were able to get some hits behind him and get a victory against a much improved Salem team."
Vizzuso had the Quaker lineup off-balance from the first inning on, allowing just four base-runners through the first five innings. As the innings wore on, the righty settled in and and worked multiple 1-2-3 innings.
"I get loose and more relaxed as the game goes on, instead of like in the first inning when I am nervous," Vizzuso said. I just try to take deep breaths out there and throw the ball as best as I can. "
The Quakers and Martin knew what they could be up against on Tuesday, and tried to be proactive in their approach to Vizzuso.
"We did what we could to simulate facing somebody like Vizzuso," Salem coach Gary Martin said. "He is a tough guy and West Branch is a good hitting ballclub."
Jake Carner reached on an error in the second, stole his way to third and scored on a wild pitch for the Quakers lone run. That run tied the game at one apiece in the second, but the Warriors were able to benefit from multiple errors to push back into the lead.
"They had good, solid hits," Martin said. "There were a couple of plays that we should have made that we didn't get in front of, but that is part of the game I guess."
The Quakers had an opportunity to chip away at a three run deficit in the top of the sixth. Storm Haueter reached on an error but was picked off to end any threat.
"There were a couple of things I wanted to do there, either bunt him over or hit and run to try and get a run back," Martin said. "I gave the steal sign and he got a bad jump and then went back to the bag. The way he stepped back to the base I thought he got around the tag, but that took us out of an inning."
Despite McGuire's single in the seventh, the Quakers went quietly to finish the game. Wells' fifth inning sliding grab included, the Warriors helped keep his no-hitter in tact for nearly the duration.
"Whenever I know a ball is hit out there, I know it's going to get caught," Vizzuso said. "I have all of my trust in him I know he's going to get it."
Both teams play today as West Branch travels to Ravenna Southeast and Salem hosts Hubbard.
Notes: West Branch Catcher Jake Smith took a foul off of his mask in the second inning and left the game. Dylan Greenawalt replaced Smith behind the plate for the remainder of the game.
- The West Branch at Salem game scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday has been pushed back to 7 p.m.