Ashland coach Jeff Wilcox thought Johnson Central would play small ball Monday night.
He was right on the money and the Tomcats escaped Johnson Central with a thrilling 2-1 win in their season opener at Eagle Field.
With one out and the tying run on third base, Johnson Central first baseman Bo Robbins bunted right into the hands of Ashland pitcher Cam Fritz and pinch-runner Trevor May was called out at the plate.
“I had a feeling (Central) might bunt the ball,” Wilcox said. “They are a very good team and they have the ability to bunt up and down their lineup.”
The Tomcats adjusted immediately, calling in their infield. It was the perfect scenario.
“It’s one of those things where we were in the right place at the right time,” Wilcox added. “We’re very fortunate to win. Johnson Central has a great ballclub.”
Robbins was 2-for-2 at the plate when he bunted the ball.
“We took a chance and it didn’t work out,” Johson Central coach Shawn Hall said. “The call could have went either way at the plate, and it didn’t work out for us tonight.”
The Golden Eagles lost for the first time this season after reeling off five wins to start the season.
“We’ll learn from this,” Hall added. “It’s still early in the season.”
Central missed two key opportunities in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Robbins was thrown out at second after a missed catch in the outfield. Shortstop Geordon Blanton was later thrown out at third on a pop-fly.
“We made too many base-running mistakes,” Hall said. “We have a lot of young players, and it showed in spots.”
Hall thought his team pitched well enough to win the game. “We didn’t hit well enough to win.”
Juwan Mayes took the loss. In four innings of work, he gave up two runs on three hits, fanned three batters and walked two. Seth Blanton and Quade Ward worked in relief.
Ashland pitched better, though.
Senor Evan Cox was smooth, allowing one run in five innings of work. He gave up four hits, had three strikeouts and walked one. Fritz, also a senior, slammed the door shut in the final innings.
“I’m extremely proud of our pitching,” Wilcox said. “To be our first game, I thought Evan and Cam showed great leadership and poise.”
Ashland jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning when Jared Slone scored on a sacrifice fly by Fritz. The Tomcats extended their margin to 2-0 in the third when third baseman Cody Conley singled home Casey Clark.
On a bright note for Central, Ward worked out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth. The Eagles’ only run came in the bottom of the fifth when Blake Gamble scored on Blanton’s double.
ASHLAND 101 000 0 – 2 3 1
J. CENTRAL 000 010 0 – 1 4 2