SWANZEY CENTER — Matt Dodd came into this spring with big shoes to fill, as the Monadnock baseball team’s new No. 1 pitcher following the graduation of Dan Heise.
Heise was an all-state pitcher and one of the Huskies’ best hitters, posting an otherworldly 1.08 ERA to go with a .482 batting average before moving on to play college ball at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
But Dodd isn’t trying to be Dan Heise; he’s just trying to be Matt Dodd.
“I just try to do me and be the best me that I can do, and that’ll help my team win,” Dodd said.
So far, the senior right-hander has stepped into his role as the new ace well. After starting four of Monadnock’s first eight games, he is 3-1 with three complete-game wins, a 1.93 ERA and more than 25 strikeouts. In 23.1 innings pitched, he’s averaging more than one strikeout per inning.
And on Wednesday, he showed an inkling of just how good he could be through the rest of the season, with a complete-game shutout win over Mascenic — both Dodd’s and the Huskies’ first shutout win this season.
Dodd allowed four hits and two walks and struck out seven in the 9-0 home win as Monadnock extended its winning streak to three.
“Today’s one of the best games he’s thrown, really,” veteran Monadnock Coach Jim St. Laurent said. “He had a little more velocity on his fastball; kept the hitters off-balance.
“He pitched the way we expect him to pitch, the way we want him to pitch.”
This marked Dodd’s second win over the Vikings this season; he held them off in a 5-2 season-opening win April 10.
The hard-throwing senior — who mixes a good fastball with a sneaky curve and changeup — held the New Ipswich team to fewer runs on Wednesday, but also had fewer strikeouts. He fanned seven batters, the fewest of any of his complete-game outings and well below his total of 10 from the season opener.
But he also had some solid backup. Despite an injury to shortstop Connor Branon, which forced Kevin Putnam to fill in at short and Joe Morrell to move to second base, the fielders came through for their pitcher, making minimal mistakes and even producing some highlight-worthy plays.
Third baseman Victor Lotito, Morrell and first baseman Carl Hoden made a 5-4-3 double play in the third inning, and center fielder Tim Santaw threw out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth.
“That makes it so much easier, because I can just rely on my team,” Dodd said. “I don’t have to try and go for strikeouts, I can just throw low, go for ground balls and I know they’re going to make the plays.”
But when the fielders did make an error that led Mascenic to pose any kind of threat, Dodd shut it down.
He produced clutch two-out strikeouts with the bases loaded in the second (when the game was still scoreless) and with a runner on third in the third, and picked off a runner at second to end the sixth.
“He’s one of our top pitchers, so we expect him to do that here at Monadnock,” St. Laurent said. “He was in the ballgame, mentally and physically. He did all we could ask of him, that’s for sure.”
Dodd was producing with more than just his arm, though, going 2-for-4 at the plate with two doubles, a run scored and three RBI. It marked his second three-RBI game of the season since hitting cleanup after a 12-2 win over Conant April 19.
But just like he needed the fielders behind him to get the results as a pitcher, he needed the guys in front of him to produce.
“Hitting in the four hole, the first three batters are getting on for me, and I’m just trying to put the ball in the outfield so they can move into scoring position and score,” Dodd said.
And that’s really the theme for Dodd this season: He may be No. 1 in the rotation, but he knows he can’t do it alone.
It’s the way the Huskies like to run things: a player may be talented, but in the end, he’s a part of something bigger than himself.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without my team,” Dodd said. “The team’s really good this year. We’ve got some young stars, we’ve got old veterans that are coming back. I know that they’ll score runs, and they’ll make the plays behind me, so I just go out there and try to be the best I can to help the team win.”