TUNNEL HILL —
When Northwest Whitfield High School sophomore Seth Pierce is on the mound, the Bruins always have a chance to win.
When they hit the ball the way they did Tuesday against Dalton and Pierce is at his best, they’re even harder to beat.
Pierce struck out nine and allowed two hits in a complete-game effort as the Bruins smashed out 13 hits — five of them for extra bases — while crushing the Catamounts 12-2 in a Sub-region 7B-4A matchup shortened to five innings by the run rule. The teams play again at 5:30 p.m. today at Dalton, with the series finale at the same time Friday in Tunnel Hill.
The Bruins and Cats entered Tuesday’s game tied atop the sub-region standings. Northwest’s Brady Middleton, who was 3-for-3, with an RBI double in the second inning and a leadoff homer in the fourth, said his team sent a clear message.
“With these series, game one has to be a statement and set the tone for the rest of the series,” he said. “Now we just have to take care of business in games two and three.”
Northwest (15-3) is 10-0 in sub-region play, while Dalton (10-7) lost for the first time in 10 games of league action.
Northwest coach Todd Middleton — Brady’s father — was pleased with the outcome for a number of reasons. Because the game was cut short after five innings, Pierce’s pitch count was very limited, meaning he would be able to work on a short turnaround and be ready to start Friday. Also, the offensive outburst continued the turnaround from earlier in the year, when the Bruins failed to get the big hit in some crucial situations.
The win over Dalton was the Bruins’ 11th victory in a row.
“We definitely got the barrel on the ball today,” coach Middleton said. “For a while we were getting hits, but not the key hits to bust a game open.”
There were plenty of key hits Tuesday, and with Pierce’s performance the Bruins’ offensive output from the first inning alone would have been enough for a win.
Brandon Smith drew a leadoff walk off Dalton starter Will Erwin and Brady Middleton followed with a bunt single. Edwin Hernandez followed with a single to left center field to drive in a pair of runs, although he was caught at second trying to stretch the hit into a double. The situation got worse for Erwin when he issued a pair of walks and gave up a bloop single that fell between shortstop Charlie Martin and center fielder Brandon Dale.
In the second, it was the top of the order that again got the offense rolling for the Bruins. Smith sent a one-out double down the line in right, and Middleton had a shot that stayed inside the bag at first for a double, bringing in Smith. Middleton scored on a sacrifice fly from Hernandez to push the lead to 5-0.
Two innings was all Erwin managed, giving up five hits and four walks while striking out a single batter.
Pierce (5-1) faced the minimum through the first three innings and only had trouble in the fourth when a two-out error was followed by a two-run homer to right by Jake Roberts, cutting the Northwest lead to 5-2. Dalton didn’t have another baserunner after that.
The Bruins scored six runs in the bottom half of the fourth, which started with Middleton’s homer to right center. Dalton pitcher Omar Lara, who replaced Erwin in the third, got Diego Peralta to fly out to right, but Lara didn’t get another out as the next five hitters all got hits, highlighted by an A.J. Orozco double over Dale’s head and a bases-loaded, two-run double off the elevated fence in center by Wade Terrell. Kyle Brock and Smith added RBI singles and another run came in on Andy Whisenant’s sac fly to right.
Northwest pushed across an unearned run in the fifth to end the game.
Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said he wasn’t surprised by the offensive outburst of the Northwest players, but he was surprised his team didn’t answer.
“I am extremely disappointed,” Ramsey said. “I didn’t see this coming. I thought we were ready for this game, and we were not, and that is my fault. But our goals in these series is to win two out of three, and we will have our chance to do that and come out ready to go (today).”
Coach Middleton agreed that the series is far from over.
“It is just the first game of the series,” he said. “We have two more and we expect to have two really good games.”
Northwest will send Terrell to the mound today, while Dalton will counter with Dale.