CHARLOTTESVILLE — After a handful of powerful hits Wednesday against visiting Lutheran, the smallest base knock proved to be the deciding factor for the Eastern Hancock baseball team.
With the Royals holding a slim, one-run lead in the fifth inning, two Eastern Hancock veterans executed perfectly in a back-and-forth affair. Senior Clayton White delivered an RBI bunt single on a designed suicide squeeze play with junior Addison True on third base to give Eastern Hancock a two-run win, 7-5.
White squared his bat to bunt down to first base line, and did, giving a quick-footed True plenty of time to reach home after obtaining a generous lead. The run gave the Eastern Hancock the final 7-5 advantage, which proved valuable in the final inning of play.
Lutheran loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning but a ground out to second base ended the threat and the game, helping the Royals improve to 2-2 this season.
“We got into a position where they would score and we would score,” Eastern Hancock head coach Chad Coughenour said. “With the squeeze play, it was a perfect opportunity after they threw a passed ball one pitch before. Clayton did a great job of getting it down and True ended up scoring, so it worked out well.”
Junior pitcher AJ Muegge, in his first start this season, exited the game after 41/3 innings with the scored tied at 5-all. He finished with three earned runs, three strikeouts, five walks and five hits. Senior Clayton White earned the win in relief, however, and moves to 2-1 this season after holding the Saints scoreless the rest of the game.
“Both (AJ and Clayton) pitched well, one thing we try to work on with a team like this is staying ahead in the count,” Coughenour said. “With the new pitch count rules, you have to stay ahead of that stuff. We have a lot of games in a row and need to minimize our pitches.”
True, a junior shortstop, led the Royals with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate Wednesday. He had an RBI double and also added a single and stolen base. Junior catcher Jarett Lewis tallied three walks at the top of the order, while Muegge, seniors Devin Denny, Levi Majority and White added RBI singles in the win.
Majority also drew two walks, while junior Payton Wilkinson added a single and sacrifice bunt.
Coughenour credits his team’s patience at the plate for wearing down the Saints’ pitching staff.
“As a team, we got into a kid with his pitch count,” he said. “(Their starter) was up to 70 pitches in the third inning. We knew, coming into the fourth and fifth innings, we would be in good shape.”
Eastern Hancock fell behind early 2-0 after Lutheran pushed a run home in the second and third innings.
Royals junior Jake Barton was the first in the hit column for Eastern Hancock, striking a single up the middle in the bottom of the third inning. His hit jolted life into the rest of the team as the Royals scored four runs in an explosive third inning.
Barton would be called out for running into a ground ball hit by Muegge, but it didn’t stop Eastern Hancock from leaving its mark. Lewis, who threw a runner out at second base earlier in the game, reached base on a walk before Muegge’s at-bat and later scored on an RBI single from Denny.
Majority followed with an RBI single to right field, which would bounce over the defenders head and allow a speedy Denny to round third and also score. True would then barrel a ball for a double, which scored Majority, for the final run of the third inning to give Eastern Hancock a 4-2 lead.
Lutheran would get three back in the top of the fourth inning, only to see Muegge help his cause and tie the game at 5-all in the bottom of the frame with an RBI single up the gut of the defense.
“We have a lot of kids who are learning and beginning to understand the game,” Coughenour said. “They play hard for each other, and, up in the down the lineup, we have kids who are going to put the bat on the ball.”
Eastern Hancock looks to move to 3-2 at home today against Centerville before a doubleheader with rival Knightstown on Saturday.
Eastern Hancock 7, Lutheran 5
WP: Clayton White (2-1) LP: Austin Bryant (LH).
RBI: Denny, Majority, True, Muegge, White (EH); Thomas, Reid, Kem (LH). 2B: True (EH); SB: True, Majority, Locker (EH).
EH: Lewis three walks; Muegge 1-3, RBI single; Denny 1-4, RBI single; Majority 1-2, two walks, RBI single; True 2-3, RBI double, single; White RBI bunt single, Barton single, Wilkinson single.