OAKWOOD — West Hall baseball coach Dustin Rennspies was nearly at a loss for words about his team’s performance Wednesday night.
What he could find the words for was how important the Spartans’ 4-3 win over Fannin County was in regards to the Region 7-AAA schedule.
“It keeps us in the race for the fourth playoff spot,” he said.
West Hall (8-8, 5-6) plays Fannin County (1-12, 1-10) again Friday in Blue Ridge, followed by a series early next week against White County for a key three-game stretch, as the Warriors currently hold the fourth playoff spot, with West Hall just behind in fifth.
The Spartans had not expected to cut it so close against the No. 8 team in the region.
“We thought that we were going to have an easy win, but we underestimated them,” said West Hall starting pitcher Zach English. “That’s something at West Hall we don’t want to do.
“We let it get out of hand, but I knew full well that we were going to pull it out.”
Spartans freshman Brian Newman drew a walk-off walk in the bottom of the seventh inning to snag the win on a cold, rainy night. It was a fitting end to a game in which West Hall recorded just one hit, an infield single at that, and scored its four runs on two groundouts, a sacrifice fly and a walk. Newman finished 0 for 3 with three RBIs, two on groundouts and one on the final walk, West Hall’s ninth of the night along with one hit batter.
His walk came with the game threatening to go to extra innings. West Hall had led since the end of the first inning and had increased the lead to 3-1 in the third, before the Spartans had even managed a hit, but the Rebels finally got to English in the top of the seventh.
Fannin County more than doubled their hits for the night with three in the top of the seventh, the final one a two-run, two-out single up the middle by Jordan Gray to even the score at 3-3. West Hall reliever Chase Jarrard, who had come in with one out in the inning and the bases loaded, induced a groundball to the next hitter, and the ball glanced off his leg before English, now at shortstop, retrieved it and fired to first for the final out.
It was a half inning that first-year coach Rennspies didn’t like to see.
“I know we’re on spring break and the weather wasn’t perfect, but you still have to focus,” he said. “Hopefully they learned a valuable lesson: you have to focus for seven innings.”
Fortunately for West Hall, the lesson can be learned without a loss.
Jarrard was credited with the win half an inning later because the Spartans batters were finally able to put Fannin County starter Noah O’Neal on the ropes. Sterling Rider led off with a walk, and Casey Roberts followed with a well-placed sacrifice bunt that the Rebels catcher threw away, allowing Roberts to reach.
English was intentionally walked by reliever Jared Petty to load the bases with one out, but Fannin County looked to possibly get out of the mess when Petty struck out the next batter and then induced a weak ground ball that he fired home for the second out on a fielder’s choice.
But Newman wouldn’t bite, watching ball four cut beneath the strike zone to drive home the winning run and finally put the game to rest.
Jarrard, who also drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly, pitched 2/3 of an inning of scoreless relief, with one hit, in the winning effort. English finished with 12 strikeouts, four hits, three walks, two hit batters and two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision.
O’Neal pitched six-plus innings with six strikeouts, seven walks, one hit batter and four earned runs, but allowed the one hit, an infield single by Lincoln Stubbs in the fifth, in the losing effort.
Stubbs also threw out a pair of runners trying to steal second. West Hall’s Cameron Johnson finished 0 for 2 with two walks and a run, which came in the bottom of the third after he walked, stole second and third, and then was driven home when Newman hit a deep ground ball to the shortstop to put West Hall ahead 3-1.
The Rebels scored their first run without a hit to open the first inning. Peyton Satterfield reached first on a fielding error by the West Hall shortstop, stole second base and reached third when the throw from the catcher went wide, before running home to score on a wild pitch.
The run was unearned, but English allowed consecutive hits following the run before striking out the next three batters to escape a jam. He followed that up by striking out the side in the second inning.
He said the Spartans won’t make the same mistake again and underestimate Fannin County when they meet in Blue Ridge.
“We weren’t ready to come out and hit,” he said, “But Friday we’ll definitely come ready.”