Three days after getting run ruled at home against Harnett County and Tri-County Six 3-A Conference rival Western Harnett, Harnett Central’s varsity baseball team rallied with five runs in the top of the seventh to record its first win of the season 6-4 at Western Harnett on Friday night.
First-year Harnett Central coach Lucas Smith cited the attitude and leadership of his seniors as a major factor in the turnaround.
“My seniors have stepped up big time this year about keeping things very positive,” said Harnett Central coach Lucas Smith. “Every day in practice they’re wearing smiles on their faces. Every game we walk in with confidence. Nobody’s held their head down. We just take each game one game at a time.”
Western Harnett coach Dalton Hardee said Central took advantage of some late Western miscues.
“We didn’t make the plays late that we needed to and gave them extra chances,” Hardee said. “And they took advantage of it.”
Junior Isaac Pilkington faced just one batter to record the win on the mound in relief for the Trojans (1-5, 1-3 TCSC), giving up no runs, no hits and no walks. Junior Dalton Snipes pitched one inning to record the save, yielding no runs on one hit and no walks, with one strikeout. Junior Brandon Barefoot started the game and pitched five-and-two-thirds innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits, three walks and two hit batters, with four strikeouts.
“I think Brandon threw a lot better game than it shows,” Smith said. “We made a few errors behind him. Isaac Pilkington coming in, in the sixth to shut out the inning was huge. And then Dalton coming in to shut it down in the seventh inning was spectacular. All three of them did a great job.”
Sophomore Shane Sweeney was the pitcher of record for the Eagles (2-6, 2-2), yielding no earned runs on five hits and one walk, with two strikeouts across two innings of relief. Sophomore Zack Hooper started the game and gave up one earned run on three hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts across five innings.
“(Hooper) has done a great job two games in a row,” Hardee said. “He started last Friday when we won against Southern Lee (5-3 at Southern Lee) and he threw a heck of a game tonight, too.”
A pair of Daltons led Central at the plate. Snipes had two hits, two RBIs and one run scored and junior Dalton Ausley had two hits and one run scored.
“I’ve literally had to find a place for (Snipes) to play each game because of his bat,” Smith said. “I have to have his bat in the lineup. He’s done a great job for us.”
Joey Yanke had a double and two RBIs. Barefoot had one hit and one RBI. Pilkington and Lincoln Ihler had one hit apiece. Sebastian Owens, Andrew Tidwell and Ihler scored one run apiece.
Senior Nate Jolley had a triple, one RBI and one run scored to lead Western.
Tristan Ung and Ian Bristow each had a double and one run scored. Carl Collins had one hit and one run scored. Seth McLamb had one hit. Jason Barnes and Pat McGrath had one RBI apiece.
Central got on the board first when Ihler singled, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a base hit from Barefoot.
Western answered with two runs apiece in the bottom of the first and second innings. Ung led off the bottom of the first and scored on a triple from Jolley, who scored on a sacrifice fly from McGrath. In the second, Bristow reached on an error and Collins singled. Bristow scored and Collins took third when Dawson Rogers reached on an error. Collins scored on a sacrifice fly from Barnes.
“We got confidence swinging the bats,” Hardee said. “We know we’re a good offensive team, so we don’t panic when we get down early. We knew we were going to come out and score. We just needed to make the plays late in the game.”
Tidwell drew a walk and Ausley followed with a base hit to lead off the top of the seventh. Tidwell scored when Owens reached on an error. After Pilkington singled to load the bases with two out, Snipes singled to score Ausley and Owens to tie the game and Yanke followed with a double to score Pilkington and Snipes to give Central the lead.
“Something I’ve heard and always preach to the kids is that everything in sports is contagious,” Smith said. “When everybody has their head up and everybody is making plays, that’s contagious. When people start making errors, that’s contagious. And one person got a hit and then the next person got a hit and it became very contagious for us.”
Western got a runner in scoring position on a two-out double from Bristow in the bottom of the seventh, but a pop-up to Owens, at short, ended the game.
Harnett Central is at conference foe Lee County and Western Harnett is at county and conference rival Triton on Tuesday.