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The execution of a bunt often creates chaos in a high school varsity baseball game.
One chaotic play, featuring a bunt, propelled the Hunt High to a 5-2 conquest of Rocky Mount in an extra game to decide the 3-A Big Eight Conference’s No. 2 representative in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 3-A playoffs at Fleming Stadium (neutral site) on Wednesday evening.
Head coach Jon Smith anticipates the victory assuring his Warriors of a first-round home game early next week. The Warriors boosted their record to 16-5, while Rocky Mount dipped to 16-7.
Starting junior right-handed pitchers Tyson Bass of Hunt and Ben Sieraki of the Gryphons waged a scoreless duel until the bunt changed the game’s complexion in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Right fielder Blake Daniels opened the inning with a double and second baseman Patrick Clark drew a walk. Left fielder Cody Mercer got the bunt down, which was fielded by Rocky Mount first baseman Austin Luthrell.
Luthrell attempted to force Daniels at third base. Instead, his errant throw allowed Daniels and Clark to score. Mercer later came home on third baseman Blaize Keen’s single.
“We caught a break,” Hunt head coach Jon Smith assured. “I wasn’t happy with the execution, but they probably weren’t either. But it worked out in our favor. And we added a couple more (runs) that turned out to be huge.”
Said Rocky Mount head coach Carter Varnell: “I hate to see a play like that completely turn it arouond. It’s an aggressive play, but we wanted to go to third and get the force out. But it’s tough on the pitcher when you don’t execute.”
Varnell reasoned Sieraki’s rhythm was disrupted, adding: “they strung a couple of base hits and executed once we made mistakes.”
The Warriors weren’t through, chasing Sieraki, who has committed to Elon University, in the process. Catcher Chase Waddell drew a walk and Bass helped his cause with a sacrifice fly, a line shot to left field. Hunt extended its lead to 5-0 on a run-scoring wild pitch.
Bass, now 6-2, pitched 5 1/3 superb innings, allowing but two hits and three base runners. He retired the first 10 Gryphons hitters.
A walk, hit batsman and error spelled trouble for Bass in the sixth. Luthrell, with the bases loaded, drilled a two-run single. However, the Warriors got a break by erasing the Rocky Mount base runner from first in a rundown between second and third.
Varnell indicated the base-running mistake was crippling, remarking: “When the game is 0-0, those two mistakes (bunt play included) get you beat. It was great through (four) innings.”
Bass was relieved in favor of right-hander Gavin Huff after walking the lead-off hitter in the top of the seventh. Despite a shrinking balls-strikes zone, Huff worked around a walk and recorded his third save.
Smith commended the pitching of Bass and Huff. However, Bass was reluctant to leave the mound.
“I was ready to finish it,” he admitted. “But (Huff) pitched good; he pitched better than I was pitching.”
Bass wound up allowing three hits in six-plus innings while walking two and striking out five.
“I was trying to spot everything up, change speeds and listen to (pitching) coach (Larry) Fulghum. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked,” Bass assessed his performance.
Critical for Hunt was a revamped approach against Sieraki, who struck out 12 and blanked the Warriors, 4-0, during the regular season. Sieraki lasted four innings and struck out just three.
“Coach Smith told us what to expect,” Bass expressed.
Smith explained his Warriors resorted to a backside hitting approach and did a good job of not swinging at pitches that troubled them against Sieraki in the regular-season game. Also cited were defensive gems from catcher Waddell, first baseman Jared Aycock, second baseman Clark, left fielder Mercer and right fielder Daniels.
“Everybody had a little bit to do with this win,” he said. “We had competitive at-bats against a good pitcher; this is about the best we have done with that.”
Observed Bass: “We played hard and expected to win. Coach Smith got us straight. We worked all week on making adjustments.”
The extra game was necessary as the result of Hunt and Rocky Mount tying for second place and splitting their two-game, regular-season series.
Score by innings:
Rocky Mount 000 002 0 — 2
Hunt 000 050 x — 5
WP-Tyson Bass (6-1) 6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO. LP-Ben Sieraki 4 IP, 5 H, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO. S- Gavin Huff (3) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Rocky Mount: Austin Luthrell 1-3, 2 RBI; Sam Mills 1-3, R; Kyle Rich 1-2; Hunt: Tyson Bass 1-2, RBI; Blake Daniels 1-3, 2B, RBI; Cody Mercer 1-2, Blaize Keen 1-4, RBI; Trey Dail 1-3.