Sand Gnats Defeat Raleigh Barons 10-2
The fledgling 21-and-over, and 35-and-over, Sand Gnat baseball teams each picked up a victory last Sunday on the diamond at Union Pines High School.
"We hope for more of that," says Dennis Johnson, the player-coach of the second-year 35-Gnats, and business manager for both squads. "The wins were good, but it was seeing the improvement that really felt good."
Under sunny skies, the first-year 21-Gnats coached by William Garner picked up their first win, defeating the Raleigh Barons 10-2. Later in the afternoon, the 35-Gnats battled the wind, rain and the Jiffy Lube Tigers to get a 9-5 weather-shortened victory.
The 21-Gnats, now 1-5, have gone through the same kind of growing pains the 35-Gnats did last year when they lost their first six games before finishing strong.
"They (21-Gnats) have players from three counties and have had some key injuries that set them back," Johnson says. "We look for them to be about like we (35-gnats) were last year, finishing in the middle of the pack."
Stuart Richardson went the distance in the 21-Gnats maiden win, scattering eight hits to go along with eight strikeouts and four walks. Offensive leaders were Ray Hutchens 2-for-5, Kyle Anderson 2-for-4, Brenden Byrnes 1-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Jason Lowe 2-for-3, including a home run, two runs and two RBIs.
With the skies darkening, the 35-Gnats bounced back from a couple of recent heartbreaking losses to improve to 2-4 on the season.
Gnats' starting pitcher John Meygas handled the Tigers in order the first time through the lineup. The Gnats scored twice in the bottom of the first on singles by Meygas and William Garner, and a double by Dennis Johnson. They extended their lead to 3-0 in the third with the aid of a walk in the middle of two Tiger miscues.
But the Gnats gave those runs back and more in the Tiger fourth. The visitors took advantage of a pair of Gnat errors, two walks and two hits to score five times, taking a 5-3 lead.
The first of two rain delays occurred during a bottom of the fourth inning comeback by the Gnats. The home team sent 11 batters to the plate starting with leadoff double to deep left center by Johnson. There were five consecutive hits, including knocks by Jeff Turner, Pike Nordgren, Meygas, Hutchens and Garner. Six runs crossed the plate, giving the Gnats a 9-5 lead.
The game became official when the Tigers were retired in order in the top of the fifth. The rains returned and 30 minutes later the game was called.
Meygas was 2-for-3, with two runs scored, a pair of steals and an RBI. On the mound, he allowed five hits and no earned runs while striking out four and walking three. Other offensive leaders for the winners were, Hutchens 1-for-2, Johnson 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and Garner 2-for-2 with two RBI's and a walk.
Johnson, 44, plays on the left side of the infield and pitches in addition to coaching, and handling the scheduling, equipment procurement and other administrative duties involved with the two teams. He says the team appreciates playing on the quality field at Union Pines. There are plans next year to start a 45-and-over squad.
One of the challenges is getting people that have been playing softball for many years acclimated to baseball.
"We could easily be 5-1 with a play here and a play there," he says of the 35-Gnats.
A double-header scheduled for June 1 at Union Pines has the 21-Gnats, meeting the Zebulon Orioles at 1:15 p.m. followed by a clash between the 35-Gnats and the Fayetteville Mets at 4:30 p.m. Admission is free for the games sponsored by Sandhills Sport Center and McBrayer Dodge.
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