CLAYTON — Winning has become contagious for the Clayton baseball team and the Comets took an eight-game win streak into their Greater Neuse River 4A Conference contest against rival West Johnston Friday night.
Despite a strong showing from the Wildcats that looked to have found a way to stop Clayton’s streak from continuing to spread, a walk-off, two-out, bases clearing double from Cole Hinnant in the bottom of the seventh inning propelled the Comets to a dramatic 10-9 come-from-behind victory.
Down by as many as five runs thanks, in part, to half a dozen fielding errors, the Comets stormed back in the bottom of the sixth inning to grab the lead for the first time all night on the strength of Brett Clark’s bases clearing double.
“That’s what good teams do; good teams fight after they make an error,” West Johnston coach Joey Worley said. “But great teams find a way to win and they’re a great team. Stacey (Houser) and the coaching staff have done a great job with those guys.”
The pesky Wildcats, however, responded with three runs in the top of the seventh to set the stage for even more late game heroics. Alex Mattes drove in the tying run on a groundball to the shortstop while Michael Blevins knocked in Noah Liles for the lead. Blevins later scored on a dropped fly ball and all of a sudden, Clayton found itself down two runs again.
A hit batsman and a walk gave the Comets (9-1, 6-0 in conference) life but even that looked to be taken away when the Comets’ Sam May attempted to take third base as a Mattes offering appeared to get away from catcher Tripp Atkinson.
Atkinson recovered quickly and fired to third baseman Tyler Tilson who applied the tag on May in time only to have the ball squirt free during the collision, necessitating the original call of the third out to be reversed.
“Baseball is a game of contagious behavior-- good and bad,” Clayton coach Stacey Houser said. “We had six defensive errors tonight, several base running mistakes and we didn’t make good pitches in key times but what more can you say about our kids continuing to battle?”
Drew Boumenot then walked to load the bases for Hinnant.
Hinnant worked West Johnston pitcher Alex Mattes to a full count before launching a deep drive to left centerfield. May, Sterling Reid and Boumenot all raced home to cap off the wild game.
“I didn’t get down with the 3-2 count; I stayed positive,” Hinnant said of the final at bat in which he tried to sit back just a little bit more and remain patient. “When he threw it down the middle, I kept my eye on it and I just busted it.”
Brandon Boykin, the Comets’ usual closer, was asked to go longer in this game than usual and picked up the win during 4 1/3 innings of relief work in which he allowed four runs on five hits.
A four-run third inning pushed West Johnston out in front early. Sterling Atkinson and Noah Liles each drove in a run and shortstop Dalton List doubled home Atkinson and Dylan McLamb.
The Wildcats (6-4, 3-3) pounded out 13 hits with Liles leading the way with three basehits. Sterling Atkinson, Tripp Atkinson, Michael Blevins and Dalton List all had two-hit performances.
“The biggest thing is that our kids competed.” Worley said. “It was a great ballgame. It’s one, that at the end of the night, you don’t want it but somebody’s got to lose.”
Clayton’s Marshall Creech drove in three runs during a 3-4 display at the plate. Hinnant and Austin Smith each collected two hits for the Comets who are all along in first place in the conference near the midway point of the conference schedule.