CENTRE – By his own admission, Spring Garden senior catcher Luke Welsh had been struggling at the plate.
That is until Saturday morning at Cherokee County High School.
Welsh blasted two home runs in back-to-back plate appearances in the top of the fourth and sixth innings. He reached base every time he came to the plate, finishing 3-for-3 in the Panthers’ 11-0 victory over the Warriors.
“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Welsh said. “It’s been pretty stressful on me not being able to hit real well, but I feel like it might be coming together. I hope it is.”
“He’s been struggling just a little bit, but we knew it was coming,” Panther head coach Tony Benefield said. “He’s coming out of basketball and hadn’t been getting a lot of swings, but he’s finally getting the swings now and he’s feeling it a little bit.”
Speaking of feeling it, Welsh’s cousin Cam was also feeling it on the mound. He scattered three hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to earn the win for the Panthers (5-5).
Had it not been for his pitch count, the younger Welsh was on pace to finish out the game, but had to be pulled in favor of Grayden Guthrie with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Guthrie preserved the shutout with a strikeout of Daegan Scott to end the game.
“I felt really good today, and I think a big part of that was my defense behind me,” Cam Welsh said. “I feel really comfortable with them making plays, and it gave confidence to fill up the zone all day.
“I felt like I might have been getting a little bit stronger throughout those later innings. I was really just trying to fill it up more and more and let my defense make plays.”
Benefield said Cam Welsh “did a great job” on the mound.
“We’ve got four who we consider our starting pitchers. There’s not a huge difference in any of them. They can all step up and have great games at any time, and Cam did that today,” Benefield said. “We wanted him to complete the game, but he used up his pitches. Being a 10th grader, he only had 100 pitches. He was one out short of a complete game, but he pitched great today.”
“He hit his spots and he threw hard,” Luke Welsh said of his cousin. “He was consistent. He let them hit the ball and put it in play. He did a good job.”
Cam Welsh also singled and walked at the plate. Chaz Pope, Kenneth Petty and Ryley Kirk each added a pair of hits. One of Pope’s was a double. He also walked and drove in three runs. Ryley Kirk also walked. Weston Kirk tripled to left center and drove in a run in the fourth. He was also hit by a pitch.
Scott, Connor Wilson and Tristan Whitefield each had a hit for the Warriors (4-7). Wilson and Whitefield also walked. Wilson suffered the loss after working four innings before giving way to Haden Wheeler.
The game marked the first time Benefield and Cherokee County head coach Will Smith faced each other on the baseball field as varsity head coaches. Smith was once an assistant to Benefield at Spring Garden.
“He does a good job,” Benefield said of Smith. “He’s got a young team, but they’ve got a chance in their area. We’re obviously more experienced as a team, but I felt like they battled with us.”
Following the Warriors’ loss to Spring Garden, Cherokee County rebounded to take a 10-0 win over Coosa Christian.
Walker Pruett tossed a one-hitter and finished with four strikeouts for the Warriors. Wilson and Whitefield both belted a pair of hits. Pruett, Brian Green, Conner Harkins and Jackson Aultman each contributed a hit. Wheeler stole three bases.