By Devin Golden
Dalton High School freshman pitcher Sam Stepp found himself in a jam a lot during Wednesday’s home game against Ridgeland.
He always found a way out.
Stepp pitched all five innings and Dalton’s bats woke up with seven runs in the final two innings for an 11-1 mercy rule win against the Sub-region 7B-4A opponent. This is the first of a three-game series, ending today with a doubleheader at Ridgeland, and the win keeps the Catamounts perfect through four sub-region games.
In each of the first three innings, Ridgeland (7-5, 0-4) got its leadoff hitter on base. Yet, Stepp didn’t allow a run until a harmless fifth inning solo home run from Tucker Hill when Dalton (9-3) already held an 8-0 lead. In the second, third and fourth innings, Ridgeland had a baserunner reach third. Stepp still got the necessary outs for the Catamounts.
“Sam wasn’t sharp; he didn’t have great stuff,” Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said. “He even admitted that. What he did a great job of was when he needed an out and needed to make a pitch, he did. He was able to find something and we made some great plays behind him.”
Dalton’s defense certainly helped Stepp, with two plays standing out.
Ridgeland center fielder Chase Crawford started the game with an infield single, and first baseman Tyler Hisey followed with a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line. Dalton third baseman Kaleb Hill made the throw to first in time and then recovered at third to catch the throw from first baseman Jake Roberts to tag out the speedy Crawford, who tried going from first to third.
In the third inning, with Ridgeland baserunners at second and third base and no one out, Roberts charged to catch Hisey’s squeeze bunt attempt in the air.
He recorded the pop out and easily threw out Hill, who was trying to score from third on contact.
“I try giving the defense ground balls and fly balls instead of trying to overpower everyone,” Stepp said. “I know I won’t do that. It helps out a lot when my defense makes plays like those.”
In the fourth inning, Ridgeland third baseman Jacob Russell and catcher Kevin Long had back-to-back, two-out hits, but Stepp got Logan Hicks to ground out to Hill at third. Stepp allowed seven hits and one walk and struck out four.
“Sam competes,” Ramsey said. “I talked to him after and said, ‘Look at the scoreboard. You didn’t have your best stuff today but still won 11-1.’ That’s the mark of a good pitcher.”
Dalton pushed across two runs in the second inning when right fielder Jase Chastain scored on a passed ball and shortstop Maddux Houghton drove in designated hitter Tucker Sumner with a single. Roberts made it 3-0 in the next inning with a solo home run — his second homer in as many games — and Chastain’s double brought home Hill for a 4-0 edge through three innings. Dalton scored four more in the fourth and ended the game in the fifth when center fielder Cole Shelton scored on a wild pitch from Ridgeland relief pitcher Cody Schrimpsher.
Chastain went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, two from a two-run single in the four-run fourth inning. The other two runs came from Hill’s two-run double. Second baseman Charlie Martin finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
For Ridgeland, Chandler Nabors pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing 11 earned runs off eight hits and eight walks. Schrimpsher entered the game with Dalton ahead 10-1 and didn’t record an out. Crawford was Ridgeland’s lone player with multiple hits, both infield singles.
The win keeps Dalton undefeated in the sub-region along with rival Northwest Whitfield, which won 3-2 over Heritage-Catoosa on Wednesday.