Pitching figured to be a position where the Martin baseball team would need time to reach the high level of consistency it achieved in past seasons. But right-handers Conner Lidiak and Erick Walker and left-hander Nick Skeffington have not struggled. Instead, the junior trio forms one of the district’s most formidable pitching rotations.
Lidiak’s five-inning, two-hit complete game effort in a 10-0 victory at Lamar on April 10 avenged the Warriors’ district-opening loss to the Vikings. Since that early March loss to Lamar, Martin has reeled off nine consecutive district wins to take sole possession of first-place in District 4-6A.
“Pitching’s been there,” said coach Curt Culbertson, who guided the Warriors to the state tournament in 2012 and 2013. “We were thinking that was going to be our weak spot coming into district. Our pitching and our defense has been a bright spot. It’s been saving us because we haven’t been hitting.”
But Martin’s starting to produce at the plate. The Warriors have scored 36 runs in their last three district games. Not coincidentally, senior center fielder Josh Watson has been in the lineup for the last three games. He missed the first three games of the season with a toe injury suffered off the field.
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In his first game back, Watson, who has signed with TCU, drew a walk and smashed a solo home run against Lamar. “Rival high school,” Watson said. “It felt good to beat them that second time, especially at their place.”
Watson struggled with being an observer in the first half of district play. Adding to Martin’s early struggles, the Warriors entered district with fewer nondistrict and tournaments games under its belt than a typical season.
“It’s kind of hard to be on the side and watching,” Watson said. “I’m not really used to that. I had faith in my teammates to keep us in first in district.”
Watson had faith in the pitching staff. “Our pitchers, they work ahead … and they always keep us in the game,” Watson said.
His faith in the pitchers has been rewarded. Watson watched Lidiak thrive by getting ahead of hitters early in the count. Unlike former lead pitcher Turner Larkins, now at Texas A&M, Lidiak is unlikely to wow anyone holding a radar gun. Lidiak instead relies on his accuracy.
“He spots up a lot,” Watson said of Lidiak. “He hits his spots really well.”
That was certainly the case against Lamar. “I threw a lot of strikes and put the team in a position to win,” Lidiak said.
Lidiak joined the Warriors’ varsity during his sophomore season but remembers how Watson and other older players performed during the run to the state tournament. “They were all just great players,” Lidiak said. “They played with tremendous confidence.”
He is seeing confidence grow in this season’s Martin squad. “We’ve all started playing with more confidence,” Lidiak said. “Our hitting is solid. Our pitching is keep us in the game. We play great defense.”
With Watson’s bat back in the lineup and a senior-heavy bench, the Warriors’ pitching and defense won’t have to do all the work to earn Martin a district title.
“We have a lot of guys who can drag bunt or knock a double or triple down the line,” Watson said. “We have a lot of team speed. We have a lot of speed on the bases.”