By Chris Goltermann
Confidence is a big key in high school baseball. It produces a comfort zone conducive for success.
And while there hasn’t been as much comfort at the plate as East Coweta’s coaching staff might have hoped heading into the 2019 season, a year of varsity experience may be doing wonders on the mound for a group of Indians arms that was thrust into action last year, some of which as early as their sophomore year.
Austin Bunn could include himself in the latter category while continuing to emerge as an ace in a starting role during a 2-0 shutout victory over Westlake at home in Region 2-7A play.
The junior right-hander, coming off an All-County season in his varsity debut, allowed just three hits while striking out 13 in a complete-game performance.
It proved huge with East Coweta (9-4, 4-0) managing just six hits, all singles, while limited offensively.
Lone runs in the second and sixth on RBI singles from senior William Kelley and freshman sensation Nico Senese were enough for the Indians to stay remain undefeated against region opponents while keeping pace with Newnan, a 5-4 winner against Wheeler in 13 innings, in first place.
Westlake only managed to put one runner in scoring position, threatening with one out in the fifth before Bunn retired both Noah Williams and Zaquai Dumas — a standout on Westlake’s varsity softball team — on strikes to end the threat.
One of three starters this year for East Coweta with ERAs under 1.50, Bunn lowered his to an impressive 0.86 over a team-high 32 2/3 innings this season while putting together an effort that produced a confident smile after receiving congratulations at game’s end.
It was his second complete-game shutout of the season while also closing out a combined effort with Logan Frady earlier in the year against Griffin.
After a runner-up finish to Newnan last spring, East Coweta stayed even with the Cougars with the win heading toward two head-to-head meetings in the final week of March.
The win equally kept Westlake from gaining any steam as the Lions fell to 1-4 in the region and 5-6 overall.
Bunn retired his final eight batters in order to complete East Coweta’s second consecutive region shutout, building on a gem by senior J.J. Freed on the road against Campbell on Friday.
The final two innings on Tuesday included a three-pitch strikeout to Alabama signee Myles Austin, who was one of three Lions to connect for singles. Austin was erased, however, on a throw from Indians senior catcher Ryan Dyal that was two steps ahead of the Westlake standout on a stolen-base attempt.
East Coweta was happy to see sophomore outfielder Landon Underhill return to the lineup for the first time since winter break. It lasted just two at-bats however, after Underhill retweaked a back injury that forced him to leave the game after running out a fielder’s choice in the third.
East Coweta tested the arm of Westlake catcher Asher Spivey twice in the first-two innings and came up empty both times on attempted steals of third and second.
The Indians still managed to plate trailing runner Tony Player in the bottom of the first on a double-steal attempt when Kelley came through on a two-out single up the middle for an early lead that held.
It wasn’t until the sixth, however, that East Coweta’s bats could find some insurance, getting a boost on a leadoff error that allowed Caleb Cashion to reach.
A successful sacrifice bunt from Jeff Sangster moved the runner into scoring position before Senese smoked a single past the glove of talented Westlake shortstop Myles Austin with the infield playing up with one out.
Senese continued to shine in his varsity debut while quickly moving up the order into East Coweta’s leadoff spot as a freshman. A 2-for-2 effort at the plate with a walk nudged his team-leading batting average even closer to .500 while playing in 12 of 13 games.
Cashion also had a pair of singles, the latter after fouling a pitch off his foot in the sixth that forced Daniel Smith to enter as a defensive replacement on the left side of the infield with Senese moving to short.
While now riding a five-game winning streak, the Indians have managed a combined five runs in their last three region games. They haven’t made more than one error against a 2-7A opponent.