04/19/09 — Deacon Jones Invitational: Panthers double up Gators in title clash

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Deacon Jones Invitational: Panthers double up Gators in title clash

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 19, 2009 2:00 AM

PRINCETON -- The scoring demons returned.

Spring Creek managed just two hits with runners in scoring position during its 6-3 loss to state-ranked North Johnston in the 2009 Deacon Jones Invitational championship game Friday evening.

The Gators stranded 11 runners overall and hit into two rally-killing double plays in the regulation, seven-inning contest at Princeton High School.

"We just left too many men on base and didn't run the bases real well," said Spring Creek head coach Heath Whitfield. "We couldn't get the big hit with men in scoring position. I don't think there's a whole lot of difference between these teams (in the Invitational) or any teams in the league.

"Everybody is pretty even across the board."

North Johnston, ranked No. 4 in the ImpactBaseball.com Class 1-A poll, claimed its first-ever Invitational crown in three tournament trips. Spring Creek dropped to 1-3 in title-game appearances since 2003.

The Gators (8-7 overall) put 18 runners on base against Panther right-handers Hunter Lane and Chris Johnson. Lane permitted just two runs (one earned) on nine hits, while Johnson allowed an earned run on no hits.

The Panthers (11-1) averted two big innings defensively. A strikeout and thwarted steal attempt stopped the Gators in the second inning. Left fielder Brandon Crocker, shortstop Johnson and catcher Will Olive completed an F7-6-2 double play in the fourth inning.

Whitfield lamented his team's offensive woes.

"Base running (mistakes), missed signs, ran ourselves into outs and some guys just didn't take good approaches at the plate," said the third-year coach. "We have guys right now who don't want to be in that situation (at the plate) with men in scoring position. We're definitely fighting our mental approach all the time."

North Johnston seized control in the early innings.

Charles Young and Ryne Mitchell started the Panthers' second inning with back-to-back singles. The Gators misplayed two consecutive bunts and errant throws led to a 2-1 deficit.

Kyle Sanders, named the Invitational's MVP, extended North Johnston's advantage with a solo, third-inning home run. An infield error and Johnson's two-out, RBI single pushed the Panthers farther ahead 5-0 after 3 1/2 innings.

"We can't give up the big innings and is something we've had a problem with recently," said Whitfield. "If we can cut that out, we've got a chance to beat anybody."

Spring Creek pulled within 6-3 on Paul Hayes' fifth-inning RBI single and seventh-inning RBI groundout. Teammate Lucas Potter, an all-tournament selection, provided two hits and finished the two-day event 5-for-6 with three extra-base knocks.

Freshman hurler Duane Gurganus and Ricky Brayboy also garnered all-tournament recognition. Brayboy supplied three innings of one-hit, four-strikeout relief against the Panthers.