The Switzerland County Pacer varsity baseball team got solo home runs from Caleb Furnish and Dalton Roark, but that those were the only runs scored as the Pacers fell in Sectional play to eventual champion Austin by a score of 8-2 last Wednesday night.
The Pacers hosted the Sectional, and looked to see some hard fought battles from a very balanced field of teams.
Switzerland County got a two-out single in the top of the first from Roark, but courtesy runner Justin Chatham was stranded at first.
Austin got off to a quick start against Switzerland County hurler Zach Whitaker, as Josh Helton opened the inning with a walk, and then advanced to third on a double to leftcenter field by Tanner Craig. A walk to Austin’s Drew Buhr loaded the bases with no outs; and the Eagles got their first run when batter Gavin Napier was hit by a pitch. Connor Smith then reached on an infield single just passed the pitcher’s mound to score Craig; and after Whitaker struck out Brady White for the first out of the inning, Brison Turner singled to left to score Buhr; and that was followed by a sacrifice fly from Cameron Spencer that plated Napier with the fourth run of the inning.
Alex Miner then flew out to centerfield to end the run, but the Eagles were off to an early hot start.
The second inning saw the Switzerland County bats stay cold, as the Pacers went out in order with Furnish striking out; Casper Stow flying out to center; and Kyle Whitham being called out on strikes.
After a rocky opening inning, Whitaker settled down on the mound, putting the Eagles down in order in the bottom of the second and recording his second strikeout.
Again the Pacers had trouble solving Austin hurler Helton, going quietly in the top of the third on a line out to the second baseman by Tyler Konkle and strikeouts from Justin Johnson and Whitaker.
The bottom of the third saw Austin threaten again, as Napier led off the inning by being hit by a pitch again; and when Smith followed that with a sacrifice bunt, he popped the ball up, but after Whitaker caught it for the out, he overthrew first baseman Matt Roland trying to double off Napier, and the Eagle runner advanced to third.
White then laid down a squeeze bunt that Whitaker fielded and threw on to catcher Roark, who recorded the put out on Napier trying to score for the second out of the inning; and the threat ended harmlessly when Austin’s Turner fouled out to Roark behind the plate.
Again Switzerland County couldn’t get the offense rolling in the top of the fourth, as Roland struck out, Roark hit a rocket to right field that was caught; and Kollin Hayes struck out, giving Helton eight K’s through four innings.
Austin struck again in the bottom of the fourth, as Whitaker struck out Spencer to start the inning; but Miner reached on an error by Roland. After Helton popped out to third; Craig hit a towering home run to leftcenter field that pushed the score to 6-0. Whitaker settled back in the groove, and got Buhr to ground out to end the inning.
Heading to the top of the fifth, Switzerland County got a spark when Furnish led off the frame with a big home run to leftcenter field; but the Pacers couldn’t capitalize. Stow hit a blast to leftcenter that was flagged down for an out; and Whitham followed that with a ground out to third. Konkle drew a two-out walk; but Johnson was called out on strikes, and the Pacers were down by five.
Austin scored again in the bottom of the fifth, as Napier was hit by a pitch for the third time in three at bats; and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. He scored on an RBI single to right by Smith; and he proceeded to steal second and went to third on a sacrifice by White. Turner then bunted up the first baseline, with Roland recording the out unassisted, but it allowed Smith to score. Spencer then grounded out to Whitham as third, but the Eagles kept the offensive pressure on, leading 8-1 after five innings.
The sixth inning started off harmlessly for the Pacers, with Whitaker striking out and Roland grounding out to third. That brought Roark to the plate, and the junior connected on a blast to straight away leftfield that gave the Pacers their second run of the game.
Again, the homer couldn’t ignite a Switzerland County rally, as Hayes struck out to end the inning.
Whitaker stayed strong on the mound, getting Austin out in order in the bottom of the sixth, but it was in a rather odd way.
Miner singled to center to start things off, and Helton tried to move him along with a bunt, but popped it back to Whitaker for the first out. Craig then hit a ball to Stow at second, who threw on to shortstop Kenyon Bledsoe to force Miner on the fielder’s choice; and Craig was then shot down attempting to steal on an outstanding throw by Roark.
Needing a big seventh inning rally, Switzerland County couldn’t mount a charge off of Helton, as the senior pitcher struck out Furnish and Stow and then got Whitham to ground out to short to end the game.
Final score: Austin 8, Switzerland County 3.
Whitaker pitched a solid game, surviving the first to go the distance, striking out three. Helton was impressive on the hill for Austin, recording 13 strikeouts in the game.
The Eagles would go on to win the Sectional title with a win on Monday over Southwestern, as Craig took the mound to toss a no-hitter to earn an 11-0 victory.
Craig and Helton were named as the co-Most Valuable Players of the Sectional; and were joined on the All Sectional team by fellow Eagles Napier, Smith, and Spencer.
Switzerland County was represented by Roark on the All Tournament team; which also included South Ripley’s Derek Turner, Cory Walker, and Luke Welch; Southwestern’s Arie Mitchell, and North Decatur’s Tyler Walterman.