By Marty Kirkland
Dalton and LaFayette high schools are on spring break this week, and on Monday their baseball teams’ pitching took a vacation when it came to throwing strikes.
The teams combined for 14 walks and four hit batters in a Sub-region 7B-4A game at Dalton, although most of the damage belonged to the host Catamounts, who won 5-4 despite their control problems.
Dalton (11-4, 6-1 Sub-region 7B-4A) plays at LaFayette (3-12, 0-7) at 5:30 p.m. today and hosts the Ramblers again at the same time Wednesday, but Cats coach Shane Ramsey would probably just as soon fast-forward to next week — when his players return to school. He held a 10 a.m. batting practice session Monday in hopes of making sure his players wouldn’t sleep all day and enter the game flat, but it didn’t seem to take on the mound.
“It’s spring break ... the routine is screwed up,” Ramsey said when asked for an explanation of the control troubles.
Kaleb Hill, a junior who started the game at third base, looked wide awake when he took the mound in the sixth with runners at first and second with one out. He worked the final 1 2/3 innings, picking up the save and proving himself the most effective and efficient pitcher among five used by the Cats.
Hill got back-to-back groundouts to end the sixth and struck out the leadoff batter in the seventh before hitting the next one, Andy Boss. But a pop fly produced the inning’s second out and it looked the Cats were going to wrap things up on a force to second base from Chase Elliott’s grounder to the left side of the infield.
The umpire ruled Boss safe, though, and Elliott was on first by that time. Ramsey was halfway across the infield to argue the call before he turned around, saying he wasn’t going to waste his time.
“(Hill) looked at me when I went out to argue that last call and said, ‘Coach, don’t worry, I got this,’” Ramsey said. “And I could (see it) in his eyes, we were going to be fine.”
Hill made sure of it, striking out Justus Cleverley to end the game and helping the Cats put the finishing touch on a win with plenty of warts.
Dalton had 10 walks and hit four batters, but Hill’s contributions to that tally were minimal and he only helped his standing on the short list of pitchers Ramsey will likely turn to in tight situations over the season’s final month.
“Pitching’s pretty easy, you’ve just got to throw it across the plate and make the hitter work,” Hill said. “I told (Ramsey) ‘Put me in and I’ll throw strikes.’ They told me at the beginning of the year I’m only going to come in in close games and tight situations, so I knew what I was going into.”
Hill helped defensively as well. Third base is new to him this season, but he made good contributions with a couple of exceptional plays Monday, including turning a 5-3 (third base to first base) double play to end a second inning that was quickly becoming troublesome.
Vinny Vega recorded just one out but earned the win, allowing two runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batter across the third and fourth innings. He entered in relief of starter Sam Stepp, who pitched 2 2/3 innings and exited with a pair of runners on in the third.
Jase Chastain put the Cats up 1-0 in the second with a line-drive home run that looped over the wall in right-center field, but LaFayette tied the game in the third as Elliott sent the ball up the middle, underneath Stepp’s glove and through a sliver between the middle infielders, allowing J.T. Snider — who had reached on a two-out double — to score. Dalton took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom half of that inning, going up 4-1 behind Cole Shelton’s double, Hill’s bases-loaded walk and Brock Nelson’s sacrifice fly.
LaFayette scored twice in the fourth to trim Dalton’s lead to one, and the Cats’ final run came in the fourth as Charlie Martin’s sacrifice fly brought home Jake Roberts, who led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on Maddux Houghton’s single. LaFayette scored its final run on Brandon Buck’s sacrifice fly in the fifth.
In addition to Vega, Hill and Stepp (one run, four hits, four walks, hit batter, one strikeout), Dalton pitched Dakota Tankersley (1 inning, one run, no hits, two walks, three strikeouts) and Shaw Richardson (1 1/3 inning, no runs, no hits, two walks, hit batter, two strikeouts).
Ramsey said he wasn’t overly concerned about the amount of pitchers he used or the amount of pitches they threw Monday, when the Cats struggled to stay ahead in the count even when they weren’t issuing free passes.
“We’ve still got kids who can throw and we’ll be fine,” he said. “We’ve just got to get back to where we’re setting the tone on the mound.”
Houghton finished 2-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base and a run, while Martin drew a walk and had a pair of sacrifices.
LaFayette used four pitchers, with Matthew Seay (1/3 inning, three runs, one hit, two walks, no strikeouts) taking the loss after entering in third in relief of Boss, who started. Buck had the best showing for the Ramblers, allowing no runs as he worked the final three innings with four hits, no walks and three strikeouts.