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For a self-proclaimed “ugly” game from the Greenfield School varsity baseball team, there was enough beauty within to satisfy even the most ardent of purists Friday afternoon against Wilson Christian at Turnage Athletic Complex.
The Knights picked up a dazzling complete-game showing from sophomore right-hander Nathan Woodard that found a way to overshadow a strong five-inning performance from Wilson Christian senior Zack Denmark.
Tied at 1 in the sixth inning, Greenfield executed a suicide squeeze for what proved to be the game-winning run. And in the bottom of the sixth, freshman left fielder Jacob Wiggs’ accurate two-out throw to the plate nabbed Wilson Christian base runner Adrian DeHart, preserving the margin and boosting the Knights to the hard-earned 2-1 victory in a brisk 1 hour, 21 minutes.
The game was originally scheduled as part of the Wilson Tobs High School Varsity Baseball Classic, but a wet playing surface at Fleming Stadium coaxed the teams into switching the scheduled April 8 game at WCA between the crosstown foes to Friday. Tobs general manager Mike Bell said Friday that he hopes the Knights and Chargers can set a date in April to play the Varsity Classic matchup.
Greenfield, a 1-A member of the split 1-A/2-A Coastal Plain Independents Conference, evened its record at 3-3, while Wilson Christian, the defending North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A champion, dropped to 3-2 and was scheduled to play Fuquay-Varina Hilltop Christian later in the day.
“We did not do a very good job hitting the baseball,” Greenfield head coach Daniel Johnson said. “But pitching, and defense and small ball, we did an outstanding job of.”
Both starters, Greenfield’s Woodard and WCA’s Denmark, were effective in limiting each respective offense. But Denmark, in striking out 10 Greenfield hitters, reached his prescribed pitch count after five innings — in large part due to laboring through the first two innings with 38 pitches. Denmark gave up an unearned run in the second after striking out the first two batters.
Eighth-grader Cason Price walked, moved to third on an error and scored on junior Zeke Ferrell’s RBI single into left field.
Woodard, who relied on his curve ball to get ahead of batters before hammering them with the fastball late in counts, struck out 11 and walked just one. He yielded his only run in the fifth after issuing a walk to eighth-grader Hunter Lewis and hitting senior Bryce Hughes with a pitch. A passed ball moved the runners up, and freshman Dylan Farmer’s sacrifice fly to right plated Lewis to tie it at 1.
Facing reliever Seth Quinn in the sixth, Greenfield cashed in on Wilson Christian’s defense to plate the game winner.
Senior Patrick Smith reached on a lazy pop fly in the infield and moved to second on a wild pitch. He reached third on a bunt single by senior Luke Flaherty. Once Price saw two pitches, Johnson gave the order for Smith to dash for home. Price got the bunt down on a fastball, and Smith scored without a throw home to give Greenfield the lead.
“I knew if there was one I guy I trusted to do it, it was him,” Johnson said of Price. “It was just the matter of the right count and I figured everybody in the ballpark expects us to do it first pitch. So I was going to give Cason one swing before we did it. But once it got 2-0, I said it was going to come fastball — the easiest pitch to bunt.”
Wilson Christian threatened to tie it in the bottom of the sixth against Woodard on a leadoff double down the left-field line by senior Adrian DeHart. But on a slow-rolling single into left field off the bat of Denmark, Wilson Christian head coach Ty Bissett opted to send DeHart around third. Wiggs gathered the ball and threw to Greenfield sophomore catcher Justin Holland in time for the final out of the inning.
“I can’t explain it,” Woodard said of his reaction to the play at the plate. “It was a lot of emotion and a lot of excitement. I was happy to see him do it, and it saved us the game right there.”
Given WCA’s lack of offense, Bissett didn’t regret cranking DeHart around third.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Bissett said. “Partly my fault, because I just told Adrian, a ball hit to shortstop, make sure it gets through. If he would have been running full speed, he may have made it, because he did hesitate. But, a good play on them.”
Johnson correctly rolled the dice twice on one move he didn’t make in the closing stages. He stuck with Woodard into the seventh inning after the sophomore demanded the ball. The corresponding move to freshman reliever Dane Reynolds would have meant a Woodard move to the outfield, and by extension, Wiggs moving into right field.
However, with Woodard’s outing and one throw to the plate, Greenfield was rewarded for its confidence in the clutch.
WCA was guilty of three errors and looked overwhelmed against Woodard’s fastball later in the count.
“Just poor (play) fundamentally on the field,” Bissett said. “Poor attempts at the plate. Now their pitcher threw good, but we took a lot of third strikes and took a lot of pitches we could have hit.”
Hughes reached on a one-out single against Woodard in the bottom of the seventh, but a strikeout and pop-out squelched Wilson Christian’s final threat. Greenfield completed its superior attention to detail without committing an error.
“We needed a game like that,” Johnson said. “We haven’t beat a good baseball team like Wilson Christian in a while, and to do it like that, I think it’s going to go a long ways with our guys.”
Score by innings:
Greenfield 000 000 0 — 2
Wilson Christian 000 000 0 — 1
WP-Nathan Woodard (2-1) 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 SO. LP-Seth Quinn (0-1) 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Greenfield: Justin Holland 1-4, Zeke Ferrell 1-2, RBI, Luke Flaherty 1-3; Wilson Christian: Gabe Barnes 1-3, Adrian DeHart 1-2, Zack Denmark 1-3.