The center-field fence at East Hall Park is 365 feet from home plate and 24 feet tall. In the four years Vikings coach Wesley Crow has been in the program, he’d only seen two balls clear that fence.
That is, until the top of the fourth inning Monday night.
Dawson County sophomore Colton Chester launched a three-run home run over the center-field fence to break open a two-run game en route to a 14-4 Tigers win in five innings.
“When a guy hits a ball that far, it changes the demeanor a bit,” Crow said. “There are very few that hit it over.
“It just tells you that kid can hit.”
With the win, Dawson County (7-6, 5-5 Region 8-AA North) breaks a three-way tie with East Hall (4-10, 4-6) for third place in the subregion. A top-three finish at the end of the regular season secures a spot in the region tournament.
The Vikings can get right back into the race with a doubleheader Wednesday starting at 3 p.m. at Dawson County. Of course, East Hall would need to stifle the Tigers’ bats to take the three-game series, which suddenly doesn’t look so easy.
“The last two games we’ve scored a lot of runs, but before that we were in a team-wide slump,” said Dawson County coach Jim Pruett. “But when these guys are hitting like that, we’re tough to beat.”
Chester, who nearly hit a second home run in the fifth on a ball that hit the top of the fence before bouncing back in for a two-run double, didn’t think he had hit a home run when he first made contact.
“I didn’t think it was gone until I saw (the center fielder) stop running,” said Chester, who hit his third home run of the year and fifth of his high school career. “We had two runners on; I was just trying to get a base hit to drive them in.”
It may not have looked like a home run when first hit, but it cleared the high fence with room to spare.
“That must have gone at least 400 feet,” Pruett said.
The blast squashed what had been looking like another East Hall comeback from a team that has displayed offensive firepower lately.
After two innings of scoreless ball courtesy of starting pitchers Hunter Buffington of East Hall and Jeffery Partington of Dawson County, Buffington, who was saddled with the loss, ran into trouble in the third.
An error, a bunt single and a bouncer just over the third baseman’s head set up bases loaded with no outs for the Tigers. The next Dawson County batter flied out to short left field, but with one out Levi Whitmire and Hunter Wehunt drove in a pair of runs in succession after each was hit by a pitch. Chester drove in a third run on a fielder’s choice at second base, which turned into two runs after one of East Hall’s four errors of the night.
“We just made a few mistakes and they capitalized,” Crow said. “We’re a much better team than we showed.”
The Vikings displayed a little bit of how well they can play — and the reason they have won four games this year after an 0-23 season in 2011 — in the bottom of the third.
East Hall’s Austin Tompkins hit a two-run double to the left-field fence, and then designated hitter Garrett Bishop drove in a third run on a groundout to the shortstop to cut the lead to one.
Buffington, who gave up eight runs, six earned, in 3 2/3 innings, was one out from finishing the fourth inning and stranding runners on the corners when Wehunt hit a pop fly that eluded three fielders and dropped in short center field to drive in a run.
Chester, Dawson County’s catcher, followed with the long home run — three of his six RBIs — to increase the lead to 8-3 and give Partington a little breathing room on the way to a complete-game win.
Still, East Hall wasn’t done fighting. In the bottom of the fourth Spencer Skelton hit a one-out double and scored on a Buffington single. But the Vikings couldn’t score again with one out and two runners in scoring position. The inning ended when center fielder Cameron Davis was tagged out trying to get home on a wild pitch.
“The play at the plate would have changed it,” Crow said. “Those kind of plays change momentum big time.”
With four more hits in the fifth and the final five of Dawson County’s nine runs with two outs, the Tigers put the game away. Partington, who allowed seven hits and struck out four, pitched his third scoreless inning of the game in the bottom of the fifth.
Crow said he was disappointed in the outcome, but happy to be able to get back on the field against the same opponent so soon.
“It is nice that you get another crack at them right away,” he said. “And we’re in a much better position than last year.”