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HILLSVILLE –– It took Carroll County five innings to get runners on base with less than two outs, and once that happened, the Cavaliers made the most of it. It took one inning for Salem to lay that to waste.
The Spartans responded to Carroll County’s lone rally with two of their own, pulling away late to take a 6-2 River Ridge District win Wednesday at Bill Worrell Field.
“We’ve just got to find a way to finish ballgames,” said Carroll County coach Joe Tompkins. “We’ve got to find a way to do the things to win some of these close games.”
Carroll County starting pitcher Seth Burris and his counterpart, Austin Coulling of Salem, breezed through four and one-half innings of play in well under an hour, with the Spartans holding a 1-0 lead by the middle of the fifth.
Only one Cavalier batter had reached safely with less than two outs up to that point – Trace Davis led off the first with a single and was erased on a double play – but Coulling aided the first two Carroll batters in the bottom of the fifth. B.J. Utt’s bouncer to the right side pulled Salem first baseman John Knight well away from the bag, but Coulling got caught watching the play and Utt beat both fielders to the base for an infield single. Brandt Puckett followed with what was intended as a sacrifice bunt, but this time Coulling was too close to the play and impeded the throw of catcher Josh Haga, and both runners were safe with a pair of excuse-me singles.
Noah Johnson bunted the runners up one station and Davis came through by hammering a ground-rule double over the fence in right-center, giving the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead.
Salem eventually got out of the inning with a double play, and fortunes turned back toward the Spartans with their first batter in the sixth when Coulling’s bouncer hit a land mine at third and took a wicked hop past the left ear of Blake Wood for a single. Cody Dooley reached on a fielder’s choice and the two advanced on a passed ball. With two outs and an 0-2 count on him, Knight slapped an outside pitch for a flair single just inside the foul line in right, bringing both runners in to regain the lead for Salem.
“That was just a good at-bat,” Tompkins said. “Seth had him 0-2, he put the pitch off of the plate on the outside and the kid just made a nice defensive swing to put it in play.”
Carroll went down in order in the sixth and Salem got its first two men on base in the seventh with a bunt and a hit-and-run bloop. Coulling’s sacrifice fly plated a run before burly DH Rob Mischant hammered a two-run shot to straightaway center field, giving the Spartans a four-run cushion with three outs to go.
Coulling allowed only a two-out walk in the seventh – the only free pass by either pitcher all day – before finishing the game with his eighth strikeout. The lanky right-hander allowed two earned runs on seven hits.
Coulling and Burris were around the plate all day, issuing one walk between them and keeping the contest to a tidy hour and 38 minutes in duration.
“What can you say, Seth threw a great game,” Tompkins said. “Both pitchers did. We couldn’t have asked anything more from him. I can’t say how many of their hits were hard-hit balls, but there weren’t many.”
The only run in the first four-plus innings gave Salem a 1-0 lead in the third. The inning was kept alive by a two-out fielding error that allowed Mischant to serve a looper just out of Puckett’s reach into left for an RBI single. Mischant collected three RBIs on a 2-for-4 day, one of four Spartans with two hits. Davis and Utt each had two hits for Carroll County.
Salem....................001 002 3––6 11 0
Carroll County......000 020 0––2 7 2
Coulling and Haga. Burris and Edwards. W – Coulling. L – Burris. HR – Mischant (S) 7th, one on. 2B – Davis (CC).