SAND ROCK – Sand Rock baseball coach Jeff Norris felt good about the Wildcats’ chances against Spring Garden senior pitcher Weston Kirk. The Wildcat hitters have had some success against him in the past, and they had a little more against him on Wednesday.
The Wildcats scratched four runs across in the bottom of the fourth inning to take the lead for good in a 9-7 Class 2A, Area 12 victory to even the series at a game apiece. The rubber game is scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon at Sand Rock at 4:30 p.m.
“We were behind the eight-ball (early), and for a minute I thought we were going to roll over, but we got it going,” said Norris, whose team trailed 4-1 after 2 ½ innings.
Spring Garden coach Tony Benefield said the Panthers “just weren’t focused today.”
“We haven’t been focused since before spring break,” Benefield said. “They’re going to have to get focused or we’re going to be in and out of the playoffs real quickly. That’s what I’m seeing right now.”
But things got started well enough for the Panthers (15-10, 4-3).
They struck for three runs in the top of the first against Wildcat starting pitcher Logan Wood. Two of those runs came off the bat of senior catcher Luke Welsh, who blasted a two-run homer to left center.
The Wildcats (11-7, 4-3) got one of those runs back when leadoff batter Olin Pruitt reached on liner past third. He stole home later in the inning to make it 3-1.
But the Panthers earned another run in the top of the second when nine-hole hitter Cam Welsh reached base on a strikeout. He scored on a double to right by Chapel Pope to make it 4-1 Panthers.
Sand Rock battled back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third with two outs. Cade Ballenger walked and then scored on a double to center by Wood. Brian Giles brought Wood home on a single to left to make the score 4-3.
Spring Garden countered with a run in the top of the fourth. Pinch hitter Andrew Bates doubled to right center then scored on Cam Welsh’s triple to left center to push the Panther lead to 5-3.
The Wildcats then sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom half and scored four runs to take the lead. The big blow of the inning was a three-run hit to left by Wood.
“They hit the ball as good or better than anybody we’ve faced this year,” Benefield said of Sand Rock. “They hit it one through nine. They battle at the plate. There’s not any easy outs. They’re well coached. You can tell they’re bought into what they’re doing, and we’re struggling with that right now.”
“We hit it at them. They just didn’t make the plays,” Norris said. “They had innings like we’ve had, and like we tried to have there in the sixth, trying to give them the ball game back. That’s part of it sometimes.”
The Wildcats kept their momentum going with two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to extend their lead to 9-5, but as Norris said, the Panthers took advantage of a couple of fielding miscues in the top of the sixth. They scored two unearned runs to make it a two-run game at 9-7.
But Wood dug in during the seventh. He gave up a single to left to Luke Welsh with one out, but struck out Grayden Guthrie and Jackson Maddox to end the game.
Wood surrendered four earned runs on nine hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
“He did a really good job,” Norris said of Wood. “He had to throw a lot more outs than he should have, like in the sixth inning. We got them out six times. We had a couple of innings like that.”
Weston Kirk suffered the loss for the Panthers. He worked six innings and gave up three earned runs on 10 hits with four walks and five strikeouts.
Giles led Sand Rock at the plate with three hits. Wood and Slade St. Clair contributed a pair of hits apiece. One of Wood’s hits was a double. Jacob Cornejo also doubled for the Wildcats.
Weston Kirk, Ryley Kirk and Luke Welsh each had multiple hits for the Panthers. One of Ryley Kirk’s hits was a double in the top of the first inning.