GRAYSON A framed newspaper article with the headline “Land of the Long Ball” hangs in the East Carter baseball press box, referencing the field’s penchant for allowing home runs.
The Russell Red Devils used a different formula in their 7-1 win over East Carter Monday night in a game between two unbeaten teams.
Pitching, defense, and timely hitting produced the Devils’ fourth straight win to start the 2021 campaign.
Russell used a four-run first inning to spearhead the victory. Ethan Sharp reached on an error, followed by a Cole Ward walk. Senior CJ Bartram lined a one-out single to right field for a quick 2-0 Red Devil lead.
Following a stolen base by Bartram, Eric Williams blooped a single to right field to make the score 3-0. Center fielder Nathan Conley joined the hit parade by ripping a double to left field to drive in Williams for the fourth run of the opening frame.
Red Devil skipper Tim Rice has been pleased with the play of his seniors this season.
“We have always believed in the guys in this class," Rice said. "All seven seniors have contributed to this great start. Each one has started a game. Bartram is having a heck of season so far. He has to be leading us in runs batted in and he has two pitching wins as well.”
Raider coach Jeremiah Shearer was not happy with his team’s focus in the first inning.
"I just talked to the guys about their energy level to start the game," he said. "We had an error and a walk to start the game and that set the tone. Give credit to their pitchers. They pounded the strike zone all night and kept us off-balance.”
The at-bats in which the Raiders hit the ball hard were thwarted by outstanding plays by the Red Devils or bad luck. Following an one-out walk to Treven Tussey in the first, Trevor Cline ripped a line drive right at second baseman Ward, who doubled off Tussey, thwarting the Raiders’ hit-and-run strategy.
The Raiders scored their lone run in the second inning as Ethan Tiller doubled into the left-center-field gap and scored on freshman Tate Scott’s single to right field. Scott was a bright spot for East Carter with two hits and a walk.
“He has a bright future," Shearer said. "I put him in the lineup last week and I think he is like 5 for 5 or 6 for 6. He is seeing the ball very well.
"That is one thing I like, is our young players. We started four freshmen tonight and a sophomore pitcher. I like where we are at; we just need to get mentally stronger.”
The Devils scored in three of the last four innings. Ward’s sacrifice fly plated a run in the fourth inning after a perfect sacrifice bunt by Sharp moved Trent Tice to third base. Ward then went yard to right field in the sixth to give the Devils a commanding 6-1 lead.
Right fielder Daniel Blanton singled in the Devils' final run in the seventh to make the final score 7-1. Catcher RJ Rigsby added a double and single, while shortstop Curtis Davis reached base three times for the Red Devils.
Conley and Blanton both turned in stellar plays from the Red Devil outfield. Conley made an excellent running catch of Connor Goodman’s liner in the gap to start the bottom of the third. Blanton gunned down Tiller at home plate from his right-field position to preserve the Red Devils' lead at 5-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Tice, in his first start of the young season, threw four strong innings, allowing only one run and three hits to earn the win. He was followed by hard-throwing freshman lefty JK McKnight, who did his best Randy Johnson impression by fanning seven Raider hitters over the last three innings.
Rice had high marks for both hurlers.
“Tonight is what we are going to get out of Tice," he said. "He is going to command the zone, pitch fast and keep our defense on their toes. We have built our team on defense and as long as he throw strikes we feel we can field ground balls and catch balls in the outfield.
"JK is a phenomenal freshman. He is someone you guys are going to be writing about for years to come.”
RUSSELL 400 101 1 7 8 1
EAST CARTER 010 000 0 1 3 2
Tice, McKnight (5), and Rigsby. Bowen, McGuire (5) and Terry. W-Tice. L-Bowen. 2B- Conley (R) Rigsby (R) Tlller (EC). HR-Ward (R).