Spring Creek goes the distance at GC
By Dan Friedell
Published in Sports on March 5, 2006 2:19 AM
SEVEN SPRINGS -- Friday was an improvement for the young baseball team at Spring Creek High.
Despite losing to Greene Central 8-3, the Gators did something they had yet to do in 2006 -- play a full seven-inning game.
With just two returning seniors on the roster, Spring Creek has had a rough start to the season, falling 13-3 to North Lenoir and 14-0 to Midway. Both games were called off early, and even more painfully, the Gators couldn't even scratch out a hit against Midway.
So when left fielder Steven Best and center fielder Michael Russell slammed into each other while chasing after a fly ball in the gap during the first inning of Friday's game, it wasn't surprising to hear a few groans from the fans in the bleachers behind home plate.
Both players stayed down for the remainder of the play, forcing shortstop Tim Rogers to retrieve the ball deep in the outfield as Greene's Hunter Chase rounded the bases for a two-run homer.
The botched play in the outfield gave the Rams a 3-0 lead, and a run-scoring single by Robert Tyndall made it 4-0 before the Gators came to bat in the first.
Best, who had been working on catching balls behind the plate instead of in the outfield during the preseason, said he never heard Russell call for the ball.
"Me and Michael were going after it pretty hard and we just kind of collided in the middle, right at the ball," Best said. "Michael got the worst of it."
The hard collision caused a five-minute delay, as Best came back to the infield so a trainer could assess his vision. He was cleared to play, but Best said it took him another inning before he felt like himself again.
Chase, the Rams' shortstop, saw the play unfold as he rounded first on what he thought was a catchable fly ball.
"I felt sorry for the boys out there," said Chase, who didn't hesitate on the bases and scored easily.
Despite the rocky top of the first, the Gators put together a rally in their half of the inning. Leadoff man Alex Casey broke the hitless streak with a single, but was erased when Russell grounded into a fielder's choice. After a pop-out by Josh Gammons, Ray Grady walked to put runners on first and second for catcher Josh Singleton. Singleton lined a two-run double into right-center, but was thrown out going for third.
After facing eight batters in the first inning, Casey found his groove in the second and third. He gave up a walk to start the second, then retired six straight before ceding the ball to Paul Hayes in the fourth.
Hayes pitched a perfect inning, and when Singleton doubled home Gammons in the bottom of the fourth, it looked as if Spring Creek might be in for a one-run battle. However, Hayes, a freshman, ran into trouble in the fifth: after Will McLawhorn (hit by pitch) and Trey Beaman (infield error) reached to start the inning, Chase and Lance Murray came through with run-scoring hits, Drew Sowers hit a sacrifice fly and Tyler Chase drove in a run with a grounder to make it 8-3.
While Spring Creek coach Roger May focused on the positives in his post-game comments, he admitted that the inning lost the game for the Gators.
"We've just got to avoid those breakdowns -- that fifth inning killed us," he said. "My freshman pitcher kind of got the ball up in the zone a bit, and he didn't do a very good job of making an adjustment until I went out and told him."
After the conference on the mound, Hayes smoothly retired the next two batters to close out the fifth.
May said he expects his pitchers to fight through jams early in the season.
"Once we get into the conference, I want them to be able to make those adjustments, that's why I stuck with him as long as I did," he said.
While Hunter Chase's 2-for-4, 3 RBI performance was impressive, he made more of an impact on the mound. The starting shortstop barreled through the Spring Creek lineup in the sixth and seventh, showing a biting curveball and a tricky change-up. He struck out four of the first five batters he faced, allowing just two baserunners in two innings. He retired Kevin Prunest on a pop-up down the first base line to end the game and gave the Rams their first win of the season.
Greene Central head coach Russell Brann said he's usually reluctant to put his shortstop on the mound, but the Rams' pitching is thin.
"This year, we're not going to have a whole lot of choice," he said.
Greene Central 400 040 0 - 8 4 1
Spring Creek 200 100 0 - 3 4 5
Leading hitters -- Greene Central -- Will McLawhorn 2 runs; Trey Beaman 2 runs; Hunter Chase 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 runs; Lance Murray 1-4, double, RBI. Spring Creek -- Josh Singleton 2-3, 3 RBI, 2 doubles; Ray Grady run, sac bunt; Josh Gammons 1-3, run.
IP H R ER BB SO
Michael Speedy (W) 3 2 2 2 1 0
William Brown 2 2 1 1 1 1
Hunter Chase 2 0 0 0 1 3
Alex Casey (L) 2 4 2 2 3 1
Paul Hayes 3 4 3 2 0 1
Tim Rogers 1 0 0 0 1 0
Kevin Prunest 1 0 0 0 0 1
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