April 8, 2014

Out of reach

N. Murray baseball falls into a tie for fourth spot

Marty Kirkland

— North Murray High School injected a little excitement into the final inning of Tuesday’s Region 5-3A baseball game with Adairsville before coming up short.

The Mountaineers would like to make the final stretch of the regular season exciting, too — but with better results on the scoreboard and, they hope, a spot in the state playoffs.

To do that, they’ll have to take advantage of more opportunities than they did in the 3-1 loss to the Tigers (10-7), who now share fourth place in the region standings with North Murray (8-12). Both teams are 4-4 in the region and split their home-and-home series, with the Mountaineers winning 3-0 at Adairsville on March 18.

“It boiled down to execution,” North Murray coach David Redmond said after Tuesday’s game. “We had ourselves in a good situation through several innings, we just unfortunately couldn’t execute and push a run across when we needed to.”

Trailing 3-0 after Adairsville scored single runs in the first, fourth and fifth innings, the Mountaineers scored their lone run in the seventh when Cole Vaughn drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk against Hunter Smith. That scored Alex Viars, who had walked to lead off the inning. Viars’ free pass had come against Cody Melton, who then struck out Caleb Campbell before walking Lucas Sexton, which led to Smith taking the mound.

Entering with runners at first and second, Smith struck out the first batter he faced for the second out, then surrendered a single to Aaron Granger that filled the bags for Vaughn’s RBI walk. With the bases still loaded, Blake Davis came to the plate and battled Smith to a 3-2 count before fouling off two pitches as the tension built.

Davis looked at strike three, though, and the Mountaineers were suddenly looking at a tight race against Adairsville with six region games to play.

Over the first half of region play, Cartersville, Ringgold and Sonoraville separated themselves from the pack to share first place. Sonoraville beat Cartersville, while Ringgold beat Sonoraville but lost to Cartersville, and each of those teams entered Tuesday’s play with still just one loss in the region.

It’s a situation that has left it looking like the top three spots are all but decided save the order, with Adairsville and North Murray in the best position to fight for fourth and the region’s final berth for state. The Tigers landed a much-needed punch Tuesday by winning against Granger (4-4), the Mountaineers’ No. 1 starter who struggled early but battled and pitched well enough to win his complete-game effort with a little more help at the plate.

North Murray finished the game with just four hits, but scoring opportunities were available. The Mountaineers left at least one baserunner stranded each inning save the sixth, when Melton sat them down 1-2-3 on a trio of groundouts to the left side.

“We got a run early and then got a couple runs to put some pressure on them, but Granger’s a bulldog and we still stranded guys in scoring position,” Adairsville coach Billy Roper said. “... (Granger) still did what he had to do, but our pitching matched him. ... (And) we got a couple key hits tonight where we didn’t get them the last time.”

The Mountaineers finished with four errors and none of the runs Granger allowed were earned. He gave up eight hits and three walks while striking out nine. He also hit two batters, both in the first inning, when he also issued one of his walks.

“I started off pretty slow and then I finally got the hang of it,” Granger said. “Fastball started off slow and then I started the curveball and I guess it got the fastball in rhythm.”

Sean McDermott picked up the win, allowing three hits and as many walks while striking out two in four innings of work. Melton allowed three walks and struck out one in 2 1/3 innings of no-hit ball, while Smith sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a walk and hit.

No Mountaineer had more than one hit, but Vaughn walked twice, Granger had a hit to go with his walk and Brady Harper went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt.

The Tigers left 12 runners stranded but moved enough of them around in the end, something Redmond knows the Mountaineers must do more often over the final six games in the next two weeks. Youth and inexperience were challenges he expected coming into the season, but the time to overcome those things is growing short.

Redmond’s optimism wasn’t overly hurt by Tuesday’s loss, though.

“I understand these kids are doing the best they can do and we’ve just got to continue to plug along,” he said. “We’ve got six games left in the region. We’re confident based on the first half, but unfortunately we’ve still got to play (the games) — and we’ve got to execute. The confidence has got to turn into execution.”