With any obstacle in life, one just has to keep persevering.
As the second contest of the week commenced between the West Senators and the South Webster Jeeps, it looked as if West was in a world of trouble.
Three walks, a hit batsman, and a single allowed South Webster to score two runs and load the bases with just one out in the very first frame of the contest as the Jeeps looked poised to run away with the contest early on.
Enter Garrett Hurd.
The star infielder turned pitching hand grabbed a pair of strikeouts to end the first inning as South Webster left the bases packed, then followed by doing the same thing to the Jeeps again when the going got tough again in the third frame by obtaining a forceout play at home plate and a strikeout to hold the South Webster offense without any runs in the latter frame.
His efforts, plus a seven-run third inning that put West at the controls of the affair for good, allowed the Senators to walk away with the series sweep of the Jeeps as West, again, used a crooked number to defeat South Webster, 8-5, and sweep the Jeeps in regular season play on Friday evening in West Portsmouth.
For Chris Rapp, the mental strength that Hurd showed in working six and two-thirds innings on the hill was a remarkable thing to see.
“I told the boys before the game, ‘The first inning is very important. If (South Webster) scores runs on you, you have to settle down and play baseball,’” Rapp said. “This is the first year Garrett’s pitched. He started last Saturday against Minford, and he’s pitched sporadically, but he came in and did an outstanding job tonight. I can’t say enough about him.”
As for Ryan McClintic, it was a loss that was unfortunate because it came of the same song, different verse variety.
“All year long, we’ve had guys in scoring position and guys at third with less than two outs,” McClintic said. “Tonight, specifically, we had the bases loaded a couple of times. We just can’t get that big hit. We just can’t get the clutch hit. We’re just not a consistent baseball team offensively, one-through-nine, and defensively, we’re having that one inning where we just unravel. We’re just trying to stay positive, keep our heads up, and just play ball.”
At first, it seemed like South Webster was seemingly going to take control of the affair behind their patience at the dish. A walk by Alek Blevins and a hit batter, which put Blake Fulk and Blevins on first and second, respectively, proved to be critical as a throwing error on a pitchout allowed Blevins to cross the plate. That sequence was followed by a walk to Trevor Coriell, an infield single by Bradley Gee, and another walk to Jacob Ruth, which allowed the Jeeps to take a 2-0 lead with only one out and the bases loaded.
But when Hurd entered for starting pitcher L.T. Maynard in the top of the first inning, the former presented a calming effect that was evident when the righty struck out Daniel Allard and Matthew Shonkwiler looking to end the first frame with limited damage done.
In the third inning, however, South Webster persisted.
After a leadoff groundout, a double by Gee, along with an error by Ruth and a drawn walk by Allard, allowed the Jeeps to load up the bags once again.
However, behind an effective array of pitches, including several off-speed balls that fell off of the table, Hurd was able to obtain a 1-2 forceout at home plate on a slow grounder back to him and sat down Gabe Ruth via strikeouts to end the third inning completely unscathed.
And it’s the result of those two frames that has McClintic — and his entire South Webster unit — searching, scratching, and clawing to find out the right answers.
“The top of our order is really coming alive,” McClintic said. “They got off to a slow start. A lot of those guys are basketball guys who obtained limited practice time before the season began. I just told the guys, ‘Don’t make any excuses. Stay at it and don’t change anything. It’s going to come. We’re starting to find some holes and some grass out there, but from one-through-nine, we’re not consistent right now. However, I’m confident in these guys. It’s just one of those things where we need a win to get out of this.”
After making quick work of the West lineup in two brilliant innings from Gee, the Senators then responded by flipping the script once again in the second affair as an error and Cade Powell single to left center field allowed Powell and Dylan Bradford to stand on first and second.
With Maynard up and no outs in the frame, an infield error then allowed Powell to score, and an infield single by Tre’ Patrick allowed West to load the bases themselves. Todd Williams and Mardy Knittel then followed by responding with the biggest hits of the ballgame for the Senators — with both players grabbing base knocks on consecutive rips to right field that scored two runs apiece — to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 5-2 lead.
West, however, wasn’t finished. In fact, a Cade McNeil walk and a Cody Staggs single allowed West to load the bases again, with Powell and Maynard being the main beneficiaries on their back-to-back RBI base knocks to left field that capped the seven-run third frame.
“We were able to get the bunts down again to make things happen, ” Rapp said. “I love the way that our lineup’s set up now, because any batter is able to hit a ball into the gap or put it in play, and that’s what it takes. Their jobs are to put the ball in play, then the defense has to field it and make things happen. That’s what they did tonight.”
As for Gee, the inning wasn’t a true testament to his overall effort. The senior — who also led South Webster at the plate by going 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI — overcame his third-inning struggles to throw a complete game. The senior only faced three above the minimum outside of the seven-run third frame.
“Anytime a pitcher throws 42 pitches in an inning (like Bradley did), that’s going to wear on said person,” McClintic said. “Brad’s been our workhorse for four years, and he’s one of the better pitchers around here. However, you give anybody 42 pitches in an inning, and it’s going to take some energy out of them. For him to go through that and still pitch effectively over the rest of the game says a lot about his stamina and his heart. He’s the kind of kid that doesn’t want to come out of the game like that. When things aren’t going right, a lot of guys want out of the game. That’s not him. He wants to stay in there and compete, and he is. He’s a competitor. I’m proud of him for staying the course and continuing to pitch his game.”
In the fourth inning, South Webster tried to start a rally and garnered some positive momentum in it. Singles by Blevins, Coriell, and Ruth, along with a sacrifice fly from Gee, allowed the Jeeps to cut the deficit to a 7-4 margin.
But Hurd — who struck out three and only allowed one extra base hit in the contest — wasn’t going to be denied, as the righthander forced Allard to fly out to Patrick in center field to force South Webster to leave two runners on, and responded in the fifth by poking a base knock to left, stealing a base, and scoring on a McNeil single to left center field for an insurance run. South Webster followed in the sixth with a single by Gee that drove Shane Zimmerman in, but Hurd ended the threat for good in the seventh inning by inducing three groundball outs as West took home the 8-5 victory.
For Rapp, the victory was certainly sweet — considering what his young unit has accomplished in defeating a tough South Webster unit.
“South Webster is a very dangerous team,” Rapp said. “We play in a tough conference, and they’ve seen some tough teams right out of the gate. They’re a team that you will see play at VA Memorial Stadium (in the postseason). When you beat a good team two times, that shows that we’re making strides and going up the ladder instead of down it.”
As for McClintic, South Webster will have to regroup and find themselves. A pair of conference bouts await on Monday and Wednesday against Northwest.
“We’ve just got to get back to having fun and playing baseball,” McClintic said. “Where we have a lot of experienced players on this year’s roster, the guys came into this year with a lot of pressure on them. They just felt it themselves. It kind of hurts your confidence when you come out and have a stretch like this, especially when they feel like they should be winning some of these games. I just keep telling them that as long as we are playing our best baseball at the end of the year, that’s all that matters. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7