Small ball produced a decisive big inning for Western Harnett’s varsity baseball team on Friday night.
Triton held leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in its Tri-County Six 3-A Conference opener at Western, but the Eagles used a bunch of bunts for five runs in the third inning to overtake the youthful Hawks for a 9-4 win.
Bradley Wilson retired 12 of 13 Triton batters after the second inning and Collin Welch closed in the seventh.
Eagle bunts and Hawk errors characterized the big inning as Dustin Lund, Trevor Dezso, Noah Kessler, Caleb Scott and Andrew Kelly scored for Western.
A good crowd had some anxious moments as courtesy runner Tyler Herald was rendered unconscious on a tag out at the plate to conclude the Eagles’ go-ahead frame. The Western trainer tended to Herald, who was motionless on his back as both dugouts took a knee.
Herald got several rounds of applause as he eventually sat up and then was helped to his feet.
“Scared me,” said Hawks coach Joey Miriello, who went to the plate area during the time Herald was knocked out.
Western coach Dalton Hardee said Herald’s dad was advised regarding concussion protocol by the trainer even though the player appeared to have regained his faculties following the incident.
Colton Neighbors led off the game with a double for Triton. Grayson Bradham had an infield hit with one out and a double steal produced a 1-0 lead for the Hawks. A double by Christian Tyndall brought in Bradham. Josh McMillian singled and Triton used another double steal to take a 3-0 lead.
A one-out, bases-loaded walk to Welch brought home Josh Carter for the Eagles in the bottom of the first.
Bert Strickland reached on an error to start the second for the Hawks. Singles by Neighbors and Bradham (RBI) helped Triton to a 4-1 lead.
A bases-loaded walk to Wilson and a sacrifice fly by Kaleb Denkins cut the lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the second.
Triton slipped to 1-5 but played much more competitively than in a 16-0 loss at Terry Sanford earlier in the week.
“Anytime that we’re in the game, within that two-to-three run realm, we can compete,” Miriello said. “We put pressure on defenses. We’re able to bunt. We’re able to run the bases aggressively. That’s our best attribute. When we’re in that situation, we can compete.
“Early in the game, we had a really good approach. We were laying off balls out of the zone and attacking the fast ball. As the game went on, we got away from that. We started chasing balls out of the zone early in the count. You tip your hat to (Wilson). He really bared down and did a good job. That’s two of the best arms we’ll see in the conference right there.”
The Hawks started freshman Dalen Thompson at shortstop and freshman Zy McDougald on the mound with sophomore Tyndall at first and another soph, Bradham, in the designated hitter role.
“As young as we are to kind of pop in there early and kind of fight the way we did, I was pleased with that,” Miriello said. “There were definitely some positives that came out of tonight. You take away that one big inning where we had the defensive miscues, it’s a 4-4 ball game.
“A lot of things could go different if you’re in the ball game versus being down by those runs that we were. We moved in the right direction tonight. Nobody likes to lose. I hate to lose, but I feel much better about the way we played tonight versus how we played against Terry Sanford. Hopefully, we’ll continue to move in the right direction. If we do that, farther into the season, we could be a good ball team.”
Matthew Dunn set down six of seven batters in the fourth and fifth for Triton. Colby Parker was nicked for an unearned run in the sixth.
“I thought we battled on the mound,” Miriello said. “When we throw strikes, we compete. I tell my pitchers all the time that 60 percent of all balls that go in play go for outs. If we throw strikes, we have a chance. When we struggle is when we put runners on base. You can’t defend a walk. Five to seven walks is like seven singles. It puts pressure on your defense and things crack.
“When we throw strikes, like Matthew did, like Colby came in and did, we can be effective. Zy, for a freshman making his first start in a conference game, had some moments. I was pleased for the most part with how we pitched. When Matthew stays down in the zone, he can be very effective. He has a lot of run on his fast ball. He’s sneaky. He did a good job for us.”
The Eagles improved to 5-4.
“Triton battled us early,” Hardee said. “They really battled Bradley on the mound. Our guys stayed the same from inning one to inning seven. That’s where we kept it going, kept chipping away.
“We weren’t swinging the bats well. We got the bunts down to propel us to get a lead. After that, our pitching dominated. That’s the best we’ve pitched, probably all year.”
Wilson yielded six hits, none after the second inning. Two of his four runs were earned. He struck out 14 without a walk. Welch had three strikeouts and one walk.
Triton hosts the Eagles on Tuesday at 7 p.m.