Defense Sparks Patriot Nine
A lunging catch of a foul ball after a long run by first baseman Dylan Wallace provided a fitting ending to Pinecrest’s 4-1 home victory over Lumberton Friday evening.
The display of diamond acrobatics by the Patriots included diving grabs in the outfield by Tristan Helms and Jackson Maples, and a couple of sparkling plays by third baseman Aaron Reimer. Those and more made the Patriots seventh win in a row to begin the season a memorable one for coach Jeff Hewitt.
“What we did defensively, without a doubt, was the best defensive game I’ve ever seen on this field,” the coach, who is in his 14th year at Pinecrest, said afterward. “That was a ball game.”
With the Patriots’ Matt Epley, and the Pirates’ Justice Sampson locked in a scoreless duel into the fifth inning, every one of the fielding gems was needed for the home team to prevail.
While Sampson was striking out six batters in the first three innings, Epley survived some hard knocks by the Pirate batters. The Patriot right-hander escaped a runners on second and third with one out jam in the first. In the second, center-fielder Helms covered a lot of ground to make the first of the diving catches.
The Pirates had runners on second and third again in the third when Reimer ended the threat with a grab of a wicked line drive to retire the side. In the fourth, the senior made a diving back hand stab of a ball hit down the line, got up, and threw the runner out.
“It’s always fun to make plays out there and help out our pitchers — especially in a game like this,” catcher Dalton Bullard said.
Shortstop Austin Helms had a hand in all three outs to retire the Pirates in the fifth, setting the stage for his team to break through against Sampson in the bottom half.
A walk to Bullard and an error on a sacrifice bunt by Maples put runners on second and third with none out. Sampson almost got out of it, but with the bases loaded and two down, Wallace coaxed a walk to force in the first run.
The Pirates’ Hunter Davis led off the sixth with a double down the left-field line and made it to third when the throw by Maples skipped away from the infielders. Then B.A. Phillips hit a ball to left that Maples charged and made a diving grab — finishing flat on his stomach as the base runner held at third.
“It was awkward because there really wasn’t a good way to catch it,” Maples said. “I was going to put it all out trying to catch it and it ended up working out.”
With two out and Davis still at third, Sampson lined a game-tying single to center as Helms came up short on another diving attempt. Bullard then threw out the Pirate pinch-runner on an attempted steal with one of the hardest thrown balls of the game.
“There were some statement plays and that was one of them,” Hewitt said. “When they came in to bat in the sixth, I told them this is a heck of a ball game. You are all doing an unbelievable job on the field right now. Let’s see if we can squeeze a couple across, send Matt back out there and win it.”
Sampson retired the first two batters before Bullard grounded a single into center field. Running for himself, he made it to third on a solid single to right by Maples. He scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
“It’s fun to run the bases as a catcher,” he said. “I always tell coach I can run, but he usually doesn’t let me.”
A single by Helms, and a double down the left-field line by Embler, plated two more runs giving the Pats a cushion they almost needed.
“I’m really proud of our kids just smelling the blood in the water there,” Hewitt said.
Epley struck out the first batter in the seventh, but walked the second and was replaced on the mound by Helms. A single by Suggs brought the tying run to the plate before Raleigh Forrest lined out hard to center and Terrance Rucker was retired on the game-ending grab by Wallace.
“It was magical,” Maples said. “It’s games like this you live for. I can’t even imagine how hyped I was when he caught that to end the game.”
A Pirate squad that looks much stronger than its record dropped to 1-7 and 0-1 with the loss.
In other Southeastern Conference games on Friday, Richmond Senior beat Hoke County 10-0 and Purnell Swett defeated Scotland High 5-3. The Patriots, 2-0 in the SEC, are scheduled to entertain a Scot squad at 7 p.m. on Tuesday that is off to an uncharacteristic 1-5 and 0-1 start.“We’ve got some momentum going in,” Bullard said. “They’re always good and it is going to be exciting.”
R H E
Lumberton 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 — 1 6 2
Pinecrest 0 0 0 0 1 3 x — 4 8 2
Sampson, Odum (6) and Locklear; Epley, Helms (7) and Bullard; WP – Epley (3-0) LP – Sampson (0-1); Leading hitters – (L) Suggs 2-4, Sampson 1-3 RBI, Rucker 1-3, DB, Davis 1-2 DB; (P) Embler 3-3, DB, RBI, Smith 2-3, Helms 1-4, RBI, Bullard 1-2, J. Maples 1-2.
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