(Locust Grove, Ga) After being swept by region foe Jones County, the Locust Grove Wildcats (14-7) got exactly what they needed in game one of a two-game series against rival Union Grove (14-5). With both teams tied for second place behind Ola, the Wildcats scored five runs in the bottom of the first powered by an Austin Moody no-doubt homerun and cruised to an 8-2 win over the Wolverines Wednesday afternoon. In addition to the bats waking up, the Wildcats got solid pitching and played almost flawless defense along the way.
Gavin Lee started on the mound for the Wildcats and got into a bit of first inning trouble, Wolverine shortstop Ty Kaufman walked and ended up on third on an errant pickoff play. However, Lee got out of the inning when he coaxed Jake Beach into an infield pop which set the stage for the Wildcat fireworks in the bottom of the first.
Wildcat leadoff hitter Josh Newton, with his blue socks pulled high, led off with a sharp single to right and quickly stole second. Locust Grove Head Coach Stephen Phillips knew the cure for a team coming off a couple of losses was an early run and when Owen Marchant hit the ball to the right side, the Wildcats were in prime position with runner on third with one out. That is when two games of frustration unloaded, Lee drove in the first run with a single, Nolan Crisp hit a double that scored Lee and Moody delivered the homer to left center that put the Wildcats up 4-0 in a blink of an eye. They would scratch one more run across in the first on a CJ Upchurch single and after batting around, had a lead they would never relinquish at 5-0.
Union Grove would answer in the top of the third, Kyle Ayers laced a triple down the right field line and scored the Wolverines first run on a Kaufman single. Great defense saved the Wildcats an additional run as catcher JK Lee threw Kaufman attempting to steal second. They play proved to be big as Jalen Jones followed with a double that would have scored to make things tighter.
The Wolverines threatened again in the fourth and seemed to be working themselves into comeback. They had runners on second and third thanks to a walk and a Caleb Grant double with only one out. Coach Phillips made a pitching change and brought in tall sophomore righty-reliever Cole English, who got Robbie Luman to ground out to first. A run would score but English struck out the final batter of the innings and the Wildcats maintained a 5-2 lead.
The Wildcats got that run right back in the bottom of the inning. After Gavin Lee’s second double of the game, Coach Phillips put him in motion and Crisp followed with a seeing-eye single between short and third, just behind Lee as he dashed past the defender. Lee never slowed and slid into home on the play to return the lead to four.
In the top of the fifth, the Wolverines seemed to have one more rally in them, Ayers led off with a walk and English fell behind the next batter 3-0. However, he came all the way back with a strike out and Union Grove never got another baserunner for the rest of the game. The Wildcats tacked on two more in the bottom of the fifth on a Marchant single for the final score of 8-2. Locust Grove got 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief pitching from English and Joe Roden to close the game out.
Coach Phillips commented on his teams early offensive output, “Over the last few days we have worked on going middle away at the plate, we have done a pour job in the last couple of games trying to pull everything and trying and do too much at the plate, so we worked the last couple of days on going backside. Plate discipline is huge, knowing what they want to hit early, waiting for that pitch to come and we did a good job of getting on those pitches tonight.”
With impending weather concerns, the final game of the series originally scheduled for Friday at Union Grove was moved up a day to Thursday. It is now Union Grove’s turn to respond and avoid the sweep.