Five free passes in seventh inning allows Gators to rally
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 6, 2007 2:41 PM
SEVEN SPRINGS -- Spring Creek literally walked to a non-conference victory over Union on Monday evening at "The Swamp."
The Gators benefited from five seventh-inning walks and nipped the previously-unbeaten Spartans 4-3. Spring Creek improved to 3-0 under the direction of first-year head coach Heath Whitfield, while Union exited 1-1.
After the players shook hands, Whitfield trotted a few feet behind his team down the right-field line. He had no post-game speech prepared and like everyone else, seemed shocked of the outcome.
"I didn't even know what to say to the kids," laughed Whitfield. "It's just one of those things that happens in baseball. Sometimes those things go your way and sometimes they don't. We were very fortunate to get this one.
"And we'll probably lose some games that we should have won, but we'll take a win that maybe we shouldn't have gotten."
Spring Creek struck out 14 times and managed just three hits in the seven-inning affair. The Gators stranded four base runners in scoring position in the first five innings combined.
Defense, however kept Whitfield's team in the game. The Gators turned three double plays, and picked off runners in the first and fourth innings.
"Our defense has played great for us all three ball games," said Whitfield. "They had a lot of base runners and those double plays got us out of some tight spots. Any time we can hold a team to three runs, we definitely feel like we should win the ball game."
Union loaded the bases in the third inning, but fell victim to a momentum-killing double play. Will Moore popped out to Gators' second baseman Josh Gammon, who turned the twin-killing with shortstop Tim Rogers.
The Spartans broke the scoreless tie one batter later. Caleb Hall doubled off the left field wall and plated Chaffin Allen for the 1-0 lead. The Gators' Rogers relieved right-hander Alex Casey, who was making his first start the season, and fanned the next batter to end the inning.
Union threatened in the fourth and fifth, but couldn't scratch in the scoring column again. Rogers (1-0) picked off a runner at second base in the fourth, and then helped turn an inning-ending double play in the fifth.
"Two of the errors were made by ninth-graders and the other was made by a first-year player," said Union head coach John Ward. "Those base-running errors are things that a coach has to live with. We'll just work on trying to get them straightened out.
"You can't point to one thing, though."
The Spartans, of the Class 1-A Super Six Conference, increased their advantage to 3-0 on Phillip Rich's two-out, two-RBI single in the top half of the sixth. However, the visitors relinquished some of the momentum in the bottom half.
Spring Creek profited from a dropped fly ball in the outfield and an infield error to push its first run across. The Gators could have added more runs, but a base-running mistake on a swinging third strike ended the threat.
"If we catch the fly ball and the fair ball, if we throw it to second instead of throwing it to first, it could have been different," said Ward. "I could go into about six other things. When things get so tight and people get all tensed up, it's harder for them to perform than they do.
"You know it's just our second game of the year and we're going to make errors."
The Gators escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, which helped set the stage for their most-remarkable comeback of the young season. Union left-hander Max Knowles (1-1) had fanned 13 Spring Creek batters through six innings, and surprisingly, returned for the seventh.
The N.C. Wesleyan recruit retired the first batter he faced. Pinch-hitter Dontay Boseman drew a walk and Casey, the lead-off batter, slapped a single to right field. Knowles, who threw at least 120 pitches, walked Rogers to load the bases.
Ward pulled Knowles at that point.
"I wanted to hang with him a little longer and he really wanted to stay on the mound," said Ward. "But, honestly, I probably should not have let him pitch 15 of the pitches he did this early in the year.The reason I did is he was so effective.
"Then, all of a sudden, the last 10 or 12 pitches weren't nearly as good."
Hall took over for Knowles and issued a bases-loaded walk to Gammon, which plated Boseman. Casey scampered home on a wild pitch to force the 3-3 deadlock. One out later, Steven Best drew the game-winning, bases-loaded walk.
Rogers got mobbed by his teammates when he touched the plate.
The Gators' seventh-inning patience at the plate pleased Whitfield.
"We knew he was getting real tired," said Whitfield. "We were taking until we got a strike on us, and once we got a strike, they had the green light to swing."
Union 001 002 0 -- 3 8 2
Spring Creek 000 001 3 -- 4 3 2
Two outs when winning run scored.
Leading hitters -- Union -- Caleb Hall 1-4, 2B, RBI, Phillip Rich 1-3, 2 RBI. Spring Creek -- Alex Casey 1-3; Josh Gammon RBI; Steven Best 1-3, RBI.
DP -- Spring Creek 3. LOB -- Union 9, Spring Creek 8. SB -- Shivar 2, Prunest, Grady, Hall, Andrasko, Allen. CS -- Casey.
IP H R ER BB SO
Knowles (L, 1-1) 61/3 3 4 3 5 13
Hall 1/3 0 0 0 3 0
Casey 22/3 3 1 1 2 3
Rogers (W, 1-0) 41/3 5 2 2 3 3
WP -- Rogers, Knowles 2, Hall. PB -- Best, Andrasko.
T -- 2:30.
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