Dalton High School Catamounts

April 12, 2014

Whatever it takes

Bruins’ latest rally delivers 7B-4A title

Northwest Whitfield High School’s baseball team has been successful this season. But at the same time, no one said success would be easy.

Several times this year, the Bruins have fallen behind early in the first few innings before answering with a rally to ensure the wins keep coming. On Friday, that formula delivered a Sub-region 7B-4A championship for the second year in a row.

For the third time in three days, Northwest rallied to beat Dalton, topping the host Catamounts 16-9 to sweep the sub-region series and clinch first place in the sub-region with a week of games remaining.

The Bruins trailed 7-4 after the first inning, but a pair of home runs from Seth Pierce and a standout effort on the mound from Logan Hilton — who entered in relief but pitched all seven innings — delivered the latest comeback.

“We talk about staying on an even keel and not getting too high and not getting too low, and that is easy to say, but I think we do a good job of it,” Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. “We don’t panic, that is the thing. After we go up 4-0 and then they get seven in the bottom of the inning, I really asked myself if I thought that we were going to play the whole game without giving up the lead and having to have to come from behind. We have known all year that we can come back.”

The victory gave the Bruins (15-4, 11-1 Sub-region 7B-4A) a slot in the best-of-three Region 7 championship series in two weeks regardless of what happens in next week’s three-game series against LaFayette. Northwest is also guaranteed of finishing no worse than the region’s No. 2 seed for the state playoffs with a home series in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs guaranteed as well.

“It isn’t a week off,” Middleton said of the final week of the regular season. “There are still a lot of things that we have to work on. We still have a lot more to get better with.”

Despite dropping three straight to the Bruins, Dalton will be in a meaningful Region 7-4A playoffs series with a chance of making state. With Heritage-Catoosa’s win over visiting Southeast Whitfield on Friday, Dalton and Heritage will be fighting for the No. 2 spot in the sub-region with their season-ending series next week.

Dalton (13-8, 8-4) and Heritage (12-8, 8-4) are tied for second in the sub-region. The winner of the three-game series will host the No. 3 team from Sub-region 7A, while the loser will have to go on the road to take on the No. 2 team from Sub-region 7A. The winners of those series will be the other two region representatives for state. The losers are done for the year.

“I don’t want to go into the playoffs in the backdoor, which is kind of what we felt like we did last year losing the series to Northwest and losing two out of three to Heritage,” Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said. “We are going to get our minds right and win the series.”

It was the Bruins who had to get their minds right Friday after a rough first inning. Dalton first baseman Jake Roberts hit a three-run homer as Dalton scored seven runs on two hits and four Northwest errors to chase Bruins starter Phillip Hammond without an out being recorded.

In stepped Hilton, who had troubles of his own when he started the opening game of the series on Wednesday. Hilton managed just one out in that start before Pierce came on in relief. On Friday, Hilton scattered four hits over his seven innings of work and just one earned run.

“Logan was what he has been all year today,” Middleton said. “Inexperience and nerves can get you, and for both him and Phillip, this is the biggest stage they have been on. They are juniors, but they haven’t played varsity before this year very much. We are still growing up. We are not young like Dalton age-wise, but in experience, we are still growing up.”

After Dalton took its early lead, Northwest bounced right back in the second.

An error, a single by Diego Peralta and a walk loaded the bases before Andy Whisenant scored on a wild pitch. Then Pierce, who had been intentionally walked in the first, delivered a single to drive in a run, and Caleb Shiflett followed with a single up the middle to bring in two more for an 8-7 lead. Northwest never trailed again, with Pierce leading the way.

The junior finished 3-for-3 with two home runs, two intentional walks and six RBIs. Also the winning pitcher in the series opener, Pierce said this team has the right mentality to play from behind when it is needed.

“Here lately that has been all that we do is get down in the first or second inning and then have to battle,” Pierce said. “I think that shows how much heart we have and how we are just always battling and not giving up. In the offseason, we worked really, really hard, and when we get into tight situations this year, we don’t tighten up or get scared. This team is together. We made the extra plays tonight and got the extra hits and that is pushing us forward.”

Third baseman Edwin Hernandez was 3-for-3 with a double and five runs scored, and he and Pierce were the only Bruins with multiple hits.

Dalton was led by Maddux Houghton, who went 2-for-3, and Brock Nelson’s 2-for-4 day.

“We didn’t throw strikes and we didn’t hit our spots and gave them too many extra opportunities — too many runners in scoring position, too many runners left on base — it all just came together against us,” Ramsey said. “Northwest is a good team. They play extremely well, and they have that killer instinct a lot like last year’s team did. They expect to win every game and expect to come back if they do get down. We have to have that against Heritage.”

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