South Johnston edged visiting Harnett Central 8-7 in a back-and-forth varsity baseball battle on an extremely cold, windy Wednesday afternoon.
“We haven’t practiced since last Wednesday,” said South Johnston coach Aaron Parnell. “We played Thursday and Friday and then were dealing with weather. Coming out, we knew it was going to be a close game. I’m proud of them. They battled through and made the plays when they counted.”
Harnett Central coach Lance Honeycutt noted miscues in the field as a factor, but was encouraged by what he saw from his team.
“We made a couple of mistakes today, but it’s early,” coach Honeycutt said. “Paul (Gervase) pitched great. Our pitching was good. We had a couple of mishaps, but they happen. We hit the ball and that was a plus for us today. We’re right there on the cusp. We have opportunities where we’re going to swing it with the best of them. We saw two good arms out there today from South Johnston. They competed. They battled. Aaron’s got a good team over there. Those boys want it. Bottom line is that we’ve got to get some hits early with runners in scoring position when it matters and it’ll change the game.”
Left-hander Dylan Honeycutt was the winning pitcher for the homestanding Trojans (4-1). In three and one-third relief innings, he gave up two earned runs on four hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. Starter Jay McKenzie went three and two-thirds innings, yielding four earned runs on five hits, two walks and two hit batters, with seven strikeouts.
“Jay (McKenzie) and Dylan (Honeycutt) both made some big pitches to get us out of innings,” Parnell said. “Guys on both sides threw the ball well today.”
Gervase, who started, was the pitcher of record for the visiting Trojans (1-2). In five innings, he gave up four earned runs on seven hits, two walks and two hit batters, with 10 strikeouts. Lincoln Ihler pitched one inning, allowing no runs on one hit.
Josh Schindler had three hits, including two doubles, and one RBI and Jackson Raynor had two hits, including a triple, two RBIs and three runs scored to lead South at the plate.
Jacob Norris had one hit, one RBI and one run scored. David Honeycutt had one hit and one run scored. Grant Millay had one hit. Drew Moore had two RBIs. Kyle Raulerson scored twice. Brayden Kauppi scored once.
“So far this year, it’s been a combination of guys,” Parnell said. “We’ve shuffled the lineup. We’ve had different guys starting and hitting in different positions.”
Hunter McLamb led Central offensively with two hits, three RBIs and one run scored.
Austin Swan had two hits, including a double, and two runs scored. Johnny Grizzard had two hits and two runs scored. Matthew Bailey had one hit and one RBI. Dylan Owens had one hit and one run scored. Baker Nelson had one hit. Gervase had one RBI. Jared Raynor scored once.
“The opposite field approach is what we’re trying to focus on,” coach Honeycutt said. “Our guys have a tendency to want to pull the ball. But, nine times out of 10, you’re going to see a good fastball that you can hit the other way, so you’ve got to be able to have some discipline and drive the ball the other way. You’ll be surprised how much better your batting average is when you can hit to both sides of the field. When those guys completely buy in to that, we’ll see a bigger difference, for sure.”
Central scored one run in the first inning and two in the second to take an early 3-0 lead, but South rallied in the bottom of the second, getting three hits and taking advantage of a pair of errors to take a 4-3 lead.
“The bottom half (of the batting order) definitely got us going there,” Parnell said. “Then the top half kind of caught on.”
The lead changed hands four more times, with each team scoring two runs apiece in the fourth and fifth innings.
Jackson Raynor scoring on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth gave South the lead for good.
Central had a chance in the top of the seventh when Swan walked, Grizzard singled and both advanced on steals, giving Central two in scoring position with two outs. Jared Raynor hit a hard fly ball that looked like it had the potential to give Central the lead, but Raulerson, the center fielder, was able to track it down and make the catch to end the game.
Harnett Central starts Tri-County Six 3-A Conference play at Lee County on Friday.
South Johnston is at home against Rocky Mount on Friday and will make up a home game Saturday at noon against Cardinal Gibbons, postponed from Tuesday because of conditions from Monday’s snowfall.