East Carter coach Jeremiah Shearer isn't ashamed to admit it; he relies on senior shortstop Connor Robinson for much of his team's offense.
It took Robinson until the sixth inning of Monday's home opener against Fleming County, but he came through. His three-run double helped the Raiders beat the Panthers, 7-2, at J.P. Kouns Field.
“He was probably our top hitter last year,” Shearer said. “He's been in the middle of the order the past three seasons. We lean on him heavily.”
Robinson's double to center field off Desmond McAdams led an East (1-1) offense that scored five times in its last two at-bats. He hit his second double of the year — he has knocked in five runs so far — which made up for being thrown out when he slipped and fell between second and third and was tagged out in a rundown.
“I was thinking about going for (third base),” Robinson said. “I rolled my ankle and missed the bag. I believe in my team; I knew we were going to win anyway.”
Robinson also pitched a scoreless seventh inning, striking out one.
What Robinson did wasn't the only reason East prevailed. Junior Chandler Duncan struck out five over three innings for the win.
Duncan considers himself a fastball pitcher, but it was his off-speed repertoire that bedeviled the Panthers in the sixth inning. With a runner on third, he: retired first baseman Brady Saunders looking at a low outside slider; struck out second baseman Nick Johnson on a low inside slider; and went low and outside again to fool designated hitter Cody Stewart.
“I'm hoping our offense will come around,” Fleming County coach Blake Price said.
Duncan credits new pitching coach — and former Marshall University hurler Grant Harper — for teaching him a different grip on his breaking ball.
“I just threw where my coaches tell me,” Duncan said. “I started throwing my slider. (The new grip) gives more break to the outside, more spin.”
Shearer said last week the new metal bats that cannot create as much of a trampoline effect when a ball is hit — which forces the player to supply more of the power — would require his team to rely less on power and more on walks and stolen bases.
That's what happened Monday. East had only three hits (left fielder Conner Staton's infield bunt single in the first inning and Dylan Genung's infield single in the sixth).
In East's season-opening loss Friday at Johnson Central, the Raiders' downfall was an eight-run fourth inning in which six were were unearned. Consequently, Shearer hoped starting pitcher Cole Boggs had good control.
“(Boggs') command is a work in progress,” Shearer said before the game. “... When he's on, he's as good as anyone around.”
Boggs mostly complied with Shearer's desire in the opening two innings — six first-pitch strikes over the first 10 batters he faced with two strikeouts.
Fleming County wasn't as fortunate in the first — after an error put Genung on second, Staton followed with his single when no Panther covered first base. The Raiders scored again on a wild pitch and an error on which Staton scored from second.
Different story by the third inning: Fleming County (0-1) tied the game at 2-2. An error in the second sent McAdams home, followed by center fielder Cole Clark scoring on Boggs' wild pitch in the third.
In the fourth, Duncan replaced Boggs, and the Panthers left the bases loaded. East chased Fleming starter Heath Burnett in the fourth, but McAdams stranded two Raiders.
Duncan also turned in the defensive play of the game in the fifth when he caught pitcher Darrin Brooks off first. East extended its lead to 4-2 when Genung scored on McAdams' balk and Robinson walked and ultimately scored on an error.
The Raiders managed just three hits, and they committed three errors. Fleming County had just one hit with four miscues.
“It was a mid-March win,” Shearer said. “I thought we took advantage of mistakes well.”
FLEMING CO. 011 000 0 — 2 1 4
E. CARTER 200 023 x — 7 3 3
H. Burnett, McAdams (4) and M. Burnett. Boggs, Duncan (4), Robinson (7) and Wells. W-Duncan. L-McAdams. 2B: Robinson.