After hanging with Region 8-A foe Athens Academy for most of the night, a series of late mistakes cost the Riverside Military baseball team in a 10-2 loss Friday night at Katterjohn Field in Gainesville.
The Spartans (8-1, 1-0 region) pushed across nine runs between the fifth and sixth innings, turning a tight contest into another setback for the Eagles (4-8, 1-2).
“Every game so far, we’ve been in it,” Riverside Military coach Mike Hutch said. “But then we get into the fifth inning, and it seems like the wheels fall off. … I keep telling our kids to forget the past. Don’t dwell on things. You’re going to make errors you’re going to strike out, but move on.”
The Eagles trailed just 1-0 heading into the fifth inning, but a string of errors and walks led to a six-run frame for Athens Academy, which extended its winning streak to five straight games.
That was more than enough run support for Spartans freshman pitcher Wyatt England, who struck out eight batters and surrendered only two hits through 5 innings.
“He controlled the number of pitches and was able to mix it up,” Athens Academy coach Casey Kane said. “He got ahead in counts and was able to get ground balls in key situations. Overall, he did a great job.”
The Spartans struck early, leading off the game with a pair of hits and a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position. An errant pickoff attempt at second base allowed a run to score, and Eagles pitcher Alex Kerns soon found himself in another jam following two walks.
But he escaped the inning by inducing a swinging strikeout and a groundout to second base.
Kerns wiggled free of trouble again in the third inning after the leadoff batter drew a walk and center fielder Jack White roped a single into the right-field gap. The Spartans successfully executed another sacrifice bunt before Kerns produced a strikeout and a lineout to end the threat.
“(Kerns) did a really good job,” Kane said. “He holds runners off very well, and he battles through it all.
“He did a great job of limiting what we were able to do early on.”
He got out of an even worse predicament the following inning thanks to a spectacular play in the field. Riverside Military first baseman Lyle Lopez snagged a bases-loaded line drive while falling and scrambled to touch the bag for an inning-ending double play.
“We played pretty well behind (Kerns),” Hutch said. “Lyle made a great play out there. That showed the grit in us.”
For all Riverside Military’s heroics on the mound and in the field, Athens Academy blew the game open in the top of the fifth.
Matt Adams took over for Kerns with one out and the bases loaded, and the Eagles turned that situation into six runs — two via fielding errors, three thanks to walks and another on a wild pitch.
“It was like a chain reaction,” Hutch said. “We just made mistakes with the bases loaded. We walked three guys in, and you just can’t do that. Hopefully they learn from it. If they learn from it, then we’ll be OK.”
Athens Academy added three more runs — all with two outs — in the sixth inning. Shortstop Ed Ferguson blasted a first-pitch, two-RBI double before England drove in a run with a double of his own one batter later.
The Eagles scored their runs late, as well.
Left fielder Tom Olander drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth inning and advanced all the way home as the Spartans committed two errors trying to catch him on the basepaths.
Riverside Military mustered three his in the seventh, capped by catcher James Basham’s RBI single that plated Olander for the second time. The late rally was a bright spot for Hutch, who oversees a squad that features only two seniors and is comprised of mostly underclassmen.
“We didn’t give up,” Hutch said. “This group won’t give up. But you can’t put yourself in a big hole like being down 10-1. We’ve got to keep ourselves in the game where we can come back.”