By Devin Golden
As the baseball game continued beyond the regulation seven innings, Northwest Whitfield High School junior Seth Pierce kept walking to the mound and facing the best Dalton’s lineup offered.
He earned this win, and the Bruins earned sole command of first place — for now.
Pierce wasn’t Northwest’s starting pitcher on Wednesday at Dalton, but his stat line looks like he was. The junior went 8 2/3 innings in relief as the Bruins’ offense came through in the ninth inning of the 8-7 win. The key three-game Sub-region 7B-4A series continues at 5:30 p.m. today at Northwest and concludes Friday with another 5:30 p.m. game at Dalton.
Andy Whisenant led off the ninth with a walk and scored the decisive run for the Bruins (13-4, 9-1) on a wild pitch after going to second on a passed ball and third on a groundout.
Pierce, The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Player of the Year as a freshman, then took the mound to pitch against the top of Dalton’s lineup in the bottom of the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single to shortstop Maddux Houghton, who moved to second on Charlie Martin’s sacrifice bunt. But Pierce then struck out Cole Shelton, who had pitched the previous five innings in relief.
Next up was senior catcher Grant Sane, whose two-out RBI single had tied the game for Dalton (13-5, 8-2) at 7 in the bottom of the seventh. Northwest chose to intentionally walk Sane, who has signed with Chattanooga State, this time.
“I thought he could get him out,” Northwest coach Todd Middleton said of his seventh-inning decision not to intentionally walk Sane. “At the time, I didn’t want to put the go-ahead run on base. Second time through, in that same situation, I said, ‘Hey, everything I’ve done so far has been wrong, so let’s try something different.’”
Dalton’s Jase Chastain followed Sane with a grounder to shortstop Diego Peralta, who flipped to second baseman Will Brock for the final out.
“Grant is a great hitter,” Pierce said. “Putting him on base eases your mind a little bit. With the last batter, I trusted my mechanics and hit my spots. It’s great to get the win.”
The rivals entered the three-game set tied for first place in the sub-region, and the winner of the series holds a lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker entering the final week of league play.
“As I told the guys, the goal is to win two out of three,” Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said. “I was very pleased and proud of how we fought. ... I like our chances for the next two games.”
Middleton described Pierce’s role as a “stopper” or “closer.” But on Wednesday, the Bruins needed a stop a lot earlier than Middleton wanted.
Northwest scored twice in the first inning — one run came courtesy of a Dalton error — but the hosts responded with four runs in the bottom half against pitcher Logan Hilton. Designated hitter Brock Nelson’s two-run single put the Catamounts up 3-2, and Middleton made the pitching change with just one out down and a lot more to go.
“I felt we needed a stop right there and needed to bring our stopper in,” Middleton said. “That was the time.”
After allowing an RBI single to the first batter he faced, Dalton first baseman Jake Roberts — who put Dalton ahead 4-2 — Pierce retired the next 13.
Northwest left fielder Walker Maret’s two-run single tied the game at 4 in the fourth and Whisenant’s RBI single gave the Bruins a 5-4 edge.
Dalton starting pitcher Jackson Bell lasted four full innings and allowed six runs (five earned) off nine hits while striking out two. He was replaced by Shelton after allowing a leadoff single in the fifth to Peralta, who later scored on Caleb Shiflett’s sacrifice fly for a 6-4 lead. Dalton third baseman Kaleb Hill then dove for the inning-ending out on Maret’s line drive to keep the Cats’ deficit from growing.
The Cats rallied in the sixth with back-to-back solo home runs from Nelson and Roberts, but Northwest’s Edwin Hernandez responded with his own solo homer in the seventh. Houghton started Dalton’s half of the seventh with a single, moved to second on Martin’s sacrifice bunt and Sane came through with his two-out, game-tying single.
Pierce allowed eight hits but struck out 12 batters in his lengthy pitching stint. He said his availability for the remainder of the series may be reduced to a Friday appearance.
“I probably won’t pitch tomorrow,” he said. “... Probably Friday, if at all.”
Pierce also had a strong day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with an RBI single in the first. Hernandez, Maret and Whisenant each added two-hit efforts. Houghton and Roberts each had three-hit games for Dalton, while Nelson finished 2-for-4.
Shelton pitched five strong innings in relief and allowed two runs off one hit and one walk while striking out four.
• Heritage-Catoosa 11, Southeast Whitfield 1: The Raiders (1-8, 4-6 Sub-region 7B-4A) are in a must-win situation today to keep their playoffs hopes alive.
Chase Jenkins pitched four innings and allowed seven runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks in the road loss. Noah Ramsey pitched 2/3 of an inning and allowed four earned runs on as many hits as Heritage earned the mercy-rule win in five innings.
“Tonight was the worst game we’ve played all year long,” Southeast coach Brad Lofton said. “Chase kept us in the ball game.”
Southeast trailed 3-1 through four innings, but Heritage exploded for eight runs in the fifth. The Generals improved to 7-3 in the sub-region and put pressure on the Raiders to save their season.
The top three teams in each sub-region have at least a chance at reaching the state playoffs. Heritage is in third place, and if Southeast loses one more game in this series it will be eliminated from postseason contention.
Abram Stanley and Ramsey each went 2-for-2 — Ramsey also drove in a run — while Rhett Harper had a double.
Southeast hosts Heritage at 5:30 p.m. today. The teams play at the same time Friday at Heritage.
• Morris Innovative girls 3, Chattooga 0: The Lady Tigers (1-12, 1-11 Region 7-2A) earned their second win in the program’s two-year history with the road victory.
Jennifer Sandoval put Morris Innovative ahead midway through the first half, and Sabrina Sanchez scored twice in the second half. Denisse Cuevas assisted on one of Sanchez’s scores.
Brianda Martinez made five saves at goalkeeper, including one on a penalty kick in the first half.
“We had spring break last week but practiced every day,” Morris Innovative coach Irene Quintero said. “I think that was a big reason for the win. All the hard work and practice paid off.”
• Morris Innovative boys 1, Chattooga 1 (4-3): Mynor Bautista had Morris Innovative’s only goal in the road win and was one of four Tigers (8-5, 8-4 Region 7-2A) to convert penalty kicks in the decisive shootout.
With the Tigers trailing 1-0 at halftime, Bautista was assisted by Eduardo Padilla on a short strike in the second half. The game remained tied through the rest of regulation and both five-minute periods designated for overtime, sending the match to the shootout phase.
In addition to Bautista, Elmer Hernandez, Sergio Mendiola and David Solis converted penalty kicks, while Padilla — who played keeper only during the shootout after playing midfielder and forward during the rest of the game — stopped two of Chattooga’s attempts.
Oscar Reyes and David Machuca shared time in goal during regulation and overtime for the Tigers, who are in fourth place in the region with four games to play.
Chattooga entered the match on a three-game winning streak, and Tigers coach Ernie Dempsey came away impressed by the Indians’ sophomore goalkeeper, Jo-El Castro.
“He played an outstanding game and had seven legit saves on balls that were going into the net — I don’t understand how he was able to save them,” Dempsey said. “... Against a lesser keeper, we would have probably scored four or five.”
• Dalton junior varsity boys 7, Cleveland (Tenn.) 0: Jaime Ortiz had two goals and an assist to lead the Cats (9-1) to the home win, while Antonio Martinez, Gibby Perez and Cristian Saldana each scored once and set up another goal.
Jose Boyzo and Ricky Ocampo each had a goal, while Jimmy Cano and Hernan Saldana each contributed an assist. Gabriel Arriola was in goal for the shutout and made two saves as Dalton outshot Cleveland 26-4.
• Coahulla Creek girls 5, Northwest 0: The Lady Colts rolled to the road win behind singles wins from No. 1 Olivia Hughes, 8-1 in pro-set play, No. 2 Katelan Chasteen, 8-0, No. 3 Kennedy Chandler, 8-0, plus a pair of doubles wins from No. 1 Bethany Goodwin and Kelsey Smith, 8-1, and No. 2 Anna Cline and Hannah Conway, 8-2.
• Coahulla Creek boys 5, Northwest 0: The Colts also won on the road, getting singles wins from No. 1 Ethan Amos, 8-6, No. 2 Bo Sheppard, 8-3, and No. 3 Ryan Greene, 8-2, plus doubles wins from No. 1 J.R. Laird and Zach Williams, 8-3, and No. 2 Cesar Lee and Griffin Ziegler, 8-3.