The Hunt High varsity baseball team dealt archrival Fike a Senior Night to forget on Friday evening.
Playing their third game in the last four evenings, the Warriors, who opened the final week of the regular season deadlocked for fourth place, emerged a regular-season tri-champion in the 3-A Big East Conference by dominating the host Golden Demons, 9-0, before the largest turnout of the season.
The revenge outcome for Hunt coupled with Rocky Mount’s 2-0 triumph against front-running Northern Nash left Hunt, Rocky Mount and Northern Nash sharing the regular-season crown at 6-4. The Warriors, after starting 1-8, ended the regular season at 12-12.
Fike wound up 5-5 in the Big East and 11-9 in all games.
Hunt will be the No. 3 seed in next week’s conference tournament and will host Southern Nash in the opening round at 7 p.m. Monday. As the No. 5 seed, Fike visits No. 4 Nash Central at 7 p.m. Monday.
Senior right-hander Jacob Williamson and the Warriors led only 1-0 until plating two runs in the top of the fifth inning and then chased Demons’ ace senior right-hander Brandon Winstead in the five-run sixth. The mound duel of senior right-handers began unraveling in the fifth.
Williamson, winning for just the second time in 11 decisions, stifled the Demons on four singles and two walks while matching his career high of 13 strikeouts. Winstead failed to retire a batter in the sixth in absorbing his third loss against seven wins. The Warriors’ first three runs were unearned.
Before the first pitch, Fike seniors Winstead, D.J. Daniels, Hunter Lee and Shakuan Daniels were honored on their night. Brief profiles on each player were read to the fans by the public-address announcer. D.J. Daniels mentioned his greatest Fike baseball moment as hitting his first home run — against Hunt. No. 1 for Winstead was last year’s no-hitter — against Hunt. The information was within earshot of Hunt players.
“I’m indifferent to that stuff,” the grinning Williamson said, “but it motivated a lot of our players.”
The Warriors, ignited by Williamson, responded with their sharpest all-around performance of 2016. Hunt nicked Winstead and junior right-handed reliever Tucker Robbins for 11 hits and both miscues came in the sixth inning and did not prove costly.
Hunt head coach Jon Smith didn’t deny that he expected a low-scoring, closely contested outcome.
“It’s been like that with Brandon pitching against us,” Smith reasoned. “He’s a great pitcher. But Jacob pitched well and I was glad to see us get him some run support. I kind of figured he was going to be himself tonight. And we were able to make adjustments on some of Brandon’s pitches.”
Commented Fike head coach Buck Edmundson: “I thought we would hit Jacob a little bit better. But give credit to Jacob; he did a fantastic job — as good a job as I’ve seen any pitcher do against us this year. He kept us off-balance.”
Hunt plated the only run Williamson would need in the third. Senior right fielder Greg Lamm reached on an one-out error, stole second base and scampered home on junior first baseman Parker Garris’ single.
Then came two more unearned runs in the fifth. Williamson doubled off the Fike third baseman’s glove. Fike’s shortstop could not handle Lamm’s shot and, with two outs, Garris delivered a run-scoring single.
The inability to make plays, said Edmundson, has been a tell-tale sign for Fike in conference play.
“And it happened again tonight,” he continued. “You’ve got to secure outs and we let plays get away from us that were costly. Making plays is just making plays.”
In the five-run sixth, senior left fielder Joel Taylor, junior shortstop Bryson Worrell, Williamson and junior second baseman Neal Lewis each singled. One run scored on a wild pitch and Garris drove in his third run with a sacrifice fly. Center fielder Connor Griffin singled and scored on Williamson’s ground out in the seventh.
Williamson mentioned as critical as hitting at the bottom half of the lineup. Garris, Taylor and Griffin each drilled two hits. Williamson slammed a double and a single and, along with Garris, drove in three runs.
“It feels good coming out here on their Senior Night and beating them,” Williamson said. “They beat us by one run at our place and it left a bad taste in our mouths. This was as good as we have played offensively all year.”
Williamson’s closest brush with being denied the shutout came in the sixth. Fike’s Lee led off with a walk and, with one out, wound up at second base on the catcher’s wild pick-off throw to first. Lee continued to third when the ball was kicked around in right field. However, Williamson preserved the shutout with a strikeout and infield grounder.
Hunt’s pitcher stopped the Demons with command of three pitches — fastball, slider and change-up.
“This is really satisfying,” Williamson commented. “This week has been tiring.
The Warriors’ four-year starter described the season as “up and down.” He explained Hunt struggled at the outset and then began finding a way to win. Next came a stretch of tough losses before the final week of the regular season produced three victories in four nights.
“ We overcame all that and ended up tri-champions,” Williamson pointed out. “It’s been a great year so far.”
Smith revealed that, after the 1-8 start, the coaching staff challenged the team to finish the regular season at 12-12.
“I certainly wanted them to do it,” Smith commented, but (the players) have got to want it. They wanted to get there tonight.”
Visons of season-ending granduer vanished for the Demons.
“We didn’t make the plays we needed to make,” D.J. Daniels quietly assessed. “I guess we didn’t show up.”