By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 1, 2010 1:46 PM
SEVEN SPRINGS -- The letdown was expected.
The recovery took longer than anticipated.
Coming off an emotional high and shutout victory over conference foe Ayden-Grifton just 24 hours earlier, Spring Creek struggled to put away Union on Wednesday afternoon. Mental and physical mistakes overshadowed a 13-strikeout effort by the Gators' pitching staff in a 9-4 win.
"I thought we were still sort of hung over from last night," said Spring Creek head coach Heath Whitfield. "We played well against Ayden-Grifton and were sky-high, and I really thought we had a letdown today. Today, we played to level of who we were playing, which we cannot do.
"We have to bring it the same every day regardless of the competition."
Left-hander Hunter Barnett logged 10 strikeouts, but permitted four runs (three earned) on six hits in a five-inning stint. The Spartans left five runners on base, including three in scoring position, during that stretch.
Corey Howell retired Union on strikeouts in the sixth after giving up a lead-off double to Blake Travers. However, the Gators' reliever walked the bases loaded in the seventh before escaping with back-to-back groundouts.
"Most of the time we were behind in the counts and didn't pitch real smart," said Whitfield. "We gave up some 0-2 hits and 1-2 hits ... didn't do a lot of the little things, smart things we need to do to beat good ballclubs."
Union had its fair share of troubles.
Three Spartan miscues led to six unearned runs.
Two bobbles occurred in the first two innings as the Gators erased a 2-0 deficit and seized a 6-2 advantage. Eric Evans stroked a bases-clearing, three-RBI double, while Howell and Barnett supplied run-scoring hits during that stretch.
A third-strike wild pitch, outfield error and Howell's double pushed Spring Creek's advantage to 8-3 after three innings. The Gators (6-4 overall) could have induced the mercy rule in five innings, but committed a crucial base-running mistake and left a runner stranded in scoring position during the middle innings.
"The longer you let a team like that hang around, the better they're going to feel about themselves ... fight because they feel like they have a chance," said Whitfield. "If you go ahead and put the dagger in them, most of the time they'll lay down a little bit. We never did put the dagger in them.
"They had the bases loaded when the ballgame ended. One hit and it could have been a new ballgame."
Howell emerged the Gators' offensive leader with three hits and two RBI. Catcher Chris Nichols recorded two hits in four at-bats.
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