Just because the playoffs are out of reach doesn’t mean that the East Hall and Lumpkin County baseball teams have nothing to play for.
Mired in what most would call a rebuilding season, the Indians and Vikings faced off Wednesday night with matching 2-11 records and rosters filled with young talent.
But those hindrances didn’t stop either squad from doing what it took to get a much-needed win.
And in the end, the Indians scored two runs in the top of the sixth to propel them to a 4-2 win over the Vikings at East Hall Park.
The win was the second in a row for Lumpkin County, which had lost six straight prior to those wins.
“It’s all about work ethic,” Indians coach Dustin Allen said. “I just keep asking our guys to get after it and good things would come.”
That was evident in the sixth, when pinch hitter John Harris singled to left with two outs. Harris advanced to second and third on a pair of wild pitches and scored on an infield single by Austin Gooch. Two batters later, Chad Fulton singled up the middle to score Gooch and give the Indians (3-11, 2-5) the win. Gooch finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI, while Fulton went 1-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI.
“They just have that never-say-die attitude,” said Allen, whose team scored its first run by using a tactic most commonly seen on youth baseball fields.
With one out and runners on first and third, Allen signaled for John Whitehead to steal second, despite the fact that East Hall pitcher Desmond Gardner still had the ball. Gardner stepped off the rubber, ran toward Whitehead, and as he fired the ball to second base, Will Anderson took off from third to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
“You have to pride yourself in getting runs like that,” Allen said. “We have some savvy baserunners and we practice that play a lot.”
The Vikings (2-12, 1-7) have their own version of that play, and used it to tie the game at 1.
After back-to-back singles by Jonathan Woodring and Drew Adams, East Hall coach Wesley Crow signaled for a double steal. Adams took off for second on the first pitch to Greg Edwards, and as the throw to second sailed by the pitcher, Woodring scored from third to tie the game.
The two teams also scored their next run in similar ways, with Fulton scoring on an RBI groundout from Randall Otis and East Hall’s Justin Jackson scoring on an RBI groundout from Woodring.
The Vikings had a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth but failed to get a hit with two on and one out.
“We just couldn’t get that timely hit,” Crow said. “The kids competed well, but we just had a bad bounce or two that prevented us from getting a win.”
Chase Grizzle also helped prevent the win by striking out six, surrendering five hits and earning the complete-game win.
“He doesn’t know his potential,” Allen said of Grizzle. “He can throw three pitches for strikes and with two seniors lost to injury, he’s going to have to carry the load for us.”
Equally as effective was Gardner, who gave up four runs on four hits in six innings.
“I thought he pitched well,” Allen said of East Hall’s starter. “He did a good job of throwing inside and that’s why we were only able to get soft grounders and not hard-hit balls.”
Crow also said that Gardner pitched well, and that his players are coming around to his philosophy.
“My focus is the mental side and taking care of the little things,” Crow said. “If we do that, then I’ll be excited.
“We’re still trying to find out how to compete,” he added, “and if our kids keep with it they’ll be good.”
Allen feels the same way about his team.
“We’re young and feisty,” he said. “We’re going to keep competing and we expect to be in all of our games.”