SMITHFIELD — What a difference a day makes.
Thursday, Smithfield-Selma opened its 2014 varsity baseball campaign against former Greater Neuse River 4A Conference rival East Wake, dropping a 10-8 thriller. The contest saw the teams combine for 17 hits and 15 errors, with a last-gasp Spartans rally falling just short. That rally had seen Smithfield-Selma charge back from an unforgettable 10-run second-inning blitz by the Warriors.
Friday, the Spartans, of the newly-formed Two Rivers 3A Conference, hosted another former GNRC foe in rival Clayton. Battling in wind-chill temperatures in the 30s, both pitching staffs were red-hot, allowing a combined six hits and committing one error.
The error, which came in the bottom of the sixth inning, was the unkindest cut for the Comets, enabling Smithfield-Selma to score the game’s only run in a 1-0 Spartan victory.
Scoring that run was Austin Blackman, who had drawn the first of two Comet walks off reliever Sam May - the only walks surrendered by Clayton pitchers.
May, who came on in relief in the fifth, fanned one Spartans batter and did not allow a hit. Brandon Boykin, who started on the mound for Clayton, struck out eight batters and surrendered two hits.
Both freebies came with one out, with the second being issued to Francil Ramirez, giving the Spartans runners on first and second. After a strikeout of Brandon Bales for the second out of the inning, Clayton appeared to be out of the inning on a smash to short by Chris Parker.
However, the throw eluded the Comet’s first baseman Verona Brooks, while Blackman came home with the game-winning score.
“We didn’t swing the bats extremely well,” said Spartans coach David Lawhon, “but we got timely help to get one across.
“Yesterday, we had one bad inning. Today, the pitchers did a great job. We had a little trouble finding the strike zone early, but we did a good job on the mound.”
The sixth was the only inning the Spartans threatened, having been handcuffed by the Comets hurlers.
“It was a well-played game,” said Comets coach Stacey Houser. “Not much hitting. We walked two in the sixth, had an error behind it and that was the game.”
Clayton had runners in scoring position in each of the first five innings, only to come up empty.
“We had runners in scoring position several times,” Houser said. “But we didn’t get the big hit. They made the plays defensively they had to make.”
Two of those defensive gems. and Clayton’s best scoring chances, came in the fourth inning, which saw the Spartans throw Comets runners out at the plate.
The first out came when Blake Joyner doubled to lead off the inning, and subsequently stole third, but was thrown out by shortstop Charlie Horne.
“The first one (thrown out) I thought was safe,” Houser said. “ I still think he (Joyner) was safe. I still think he was safe.”
The second Comets runner to be thrown out at the plate was Austin Smith, who had walked following Joyner’s double. He also had stolen second, and on Brandon Boykin’s two-out drive to enter, was thrown out trying to score by Ramirez.
“The second one (Smith) I got thrown out because I sent him,” Houser admitted. “I was trying to force the issue. That’s a coaching error.”
Smithfield-Selma threw three pitchers at the Comets, which Lawhon said was the game plan, to allow his hurlers to throw between 35-45 pitches, based on the weather and the previous day’s game against East Wake.
Dylan Brown started for the Spartans, pitching 2 1/3 innings, striking out three batters and walking five while not allowing a hit. Chris Simonson provided middle relief, going two innings and surrendering four hits while walking one and fanning one before yielding the hill to Chris Parker, who picked up the win by striking out six batters in 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief.