As soon as the baseball schedule had begun for Starkville Academy, it is beginning to wind down quickly and every District 2-AAA game is of the utmost importance.
Tuesday night was proof of that as the Volunteers welcomed in a Winston Academy team that has been playing well of late. The Patriots entered with 2-1 record in district play and SA was 3-3 before the doubleheader in Starkville.
Fighting for a district title, the Vols need every win they can get over the next couple of weeks and they sealed two of them on Tuesday night. SA took game won 6-2 and game two 12-5 to move to 5-3 in district play and it stays within striking distance of Heritage, which has just one district loss.
The Vols had to overcome some early issues in the field in the second game to get things going and end up on the right side of the scoreboard. An error started the inning and gave way to a three-run opening frame after a one-out single and two-out, two run hit making it 3-0 with Will Miller on the mound.
The veteran lineup calmly steadied things in the bottom of the inning against a freshman pitcher for the Patriots. Taylor Arnold got a leadoff single and opened the door for a six-run inning on six hits as 11 batters came to the plate to take a 6-3 lead.
The rest of the game was all about the Vols.
“Three unearned runs in the first is kind of some lackluster defensive stuff that hopefully won’t happen often,” SA head coach Thomas Berkery said. “The six-spot makes you feel a lot better. That’s what we have to do against younger arms like (Winston) threw out and make sure you hit the mistakes to put the pressure back on them.”
The Vols scored three runs with two outs in the third inning to lead 9-3 and scored a run in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to pull away before Winston Academy added two runs on an error in the seventh.
Miller had four strong innings as he gave up no earned runs and struck out seven with just two walks. Connor McLaughlin threw two innings of scoreless relief with one hit and three strikeouts and Howell Archer pitched the seventh inning and struck out three batters with no earned runs.
Archer was also 2-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and Arnold led the way with his 3-for-4 night in game two, three RBI and two doubles. There was also three hits from Griffin Little with two RBI and a triple and two hits each for Nason Heflin and Sam Clark.
While Arnold and Archer had their usual success at the top of the order, Berkery liked what he saw from the entire lineup.
“I feel like (Arnold and Archer) are really locked in for us,” Berkery said. “Both of them have worked on cleaning up their swing and being more efficient. For us, we really go when the bottom of the order guys can do stuff. If those guys can contribute, that’s when we’re really going to roll. From top to bottom I feel really good about where we are. We just have to keep grinding and getting better every day.”
Starkville Academy 6,
Winston Academy 2
In the first game, the Vols had a stranglehold on the Patriots from the start behind a dominating performance on the mound from Little and they cruised to the victory.
Little got the team off to a great start both on the mound and at the plate as he drove in a run on an RBI in the first inning and another in the second with two outs. Arnold followed behind him with one of his own and it was 3-0 before the Patriots could make anything happen.
In the fourth inning, Winston Academy got a base runner with wild pitch following a strike out and that run came around to score on a ground ball thrown away at first base with two outs. SA got that run back the next inning when Archer hit a two-run home run to left field and made it 5-1 and that was more than enough cushion.
Little, Miller and Arnold have been the best three pitchers of the season for the Vols and Arnold has a chance to complete the three-game sweep of Winston as he follows suit into Thursday’s game three of the season series. The game takes place in Louisville at 6 p.m. and the senior is excited to be on the mound.
“It’s big when you have the series won and you’ve got confidence going into that third game trying to get the sweep,” Arnold said. “I’m ready.”