DOBSON — Surry Central’s opening game of the Surry Central Easter Tournament was almost a repeat of the Golden Eagles’ last outing.
Confronted with a team that was much better than its record and overdue for a breakout, Central saw it happen against them, and then gave its opponent some unnecessary help.
This time, the foe was North Iredell, which came into Wednesday afternoon’s game sporting an 0-9 record, most of it compiled against top-notch teams from around the region, including a number of 4A schools. The Raiders were eager to show they were a better team than that, and had the Eagles in their crosshairs from the get-go.
For the second game in a row, Surry Central failed to rise the challenge. The Eagles surrendered six unearned runs in an 8-2 setback, committing four errors once again.
“Coming in, I felt like North Iredell’s record was not indicative of their talent level,” said Surry Central coach Matt Scott, whose team had kicked four in a loss to a 2-8 Starmount team two days earlier. “We gave them a big inning, and it cost us again.”
Most of the damage was done in the third inning, when an error by Central starting pitcher Garrett Johnson ended up transforming what should have been a two-run inning for North Iredell into something far worse. It began with a walk to Luke Johnson and a seeing-eye single through the third base-shortstop gap by David Highman. The Raiders decided to play for two runs, and Alec Baldwin laid down a sacrifice bunt that was thrown past first base into right-field foul territory. Johnson scored on the play, but Johnson struck out the next batter before Iredell starting pitcher Garrett Dancey smashed a hard line drive to left field for a two-run double. That made the score 3-0 before the next batter was retired on a comebacker to the mound for what should have been the third out.
At this point, the error earlier in the inning really began to cost Central. The next two Raiders also got hits to drive in runs, and then a passed ball let in a sixth before the Eagles were able to get out of the inning.
“I’ve told my kids before, if you look at boxscores, you’d see that a lot of times, one team will score more in one inning than the other team does in the whole game,” said Scott. “The past two games, we’ve given up a big inning with errors and walks, and plays that maybe weren’t errors that we still should have made. It’s just come back to bite us.”
The North Iredell fourth saw the visitors benefit from more shaky defense by Surry Central. A hit batsman, a walk and two errors gave the Raiders two more runs. The killer came with two outs and runners on second and third, when Branson Austin lifted a lazy popup into shallow center field with three Eagle defenders nearby. Confusion about who would take the play resulted in it falling in for a pair of runs and an 8-1 Iredell lead.
Things settled down from there. Johnson went six innings for the Eagles, drawing the appreciation of his coach for allowing him to save the rest of the pitching staff for the rest of the week, and finally got some help from his defense, which committed just one more error. But the Surry Central bats were unable to dig out of the hole their gloves had created.
“Garrett did a good job overcoming everything and giving us some solid innings later in the game,” said Scott. “If nothing else, that saves our pitching staff for the rest of the tournament. He held them at bay and gave us a chance to come back, but we couldn’t get going offensively.”
The Eagles got one of the runs back immediately after the six-run debacle. Riley Dockery led off the bottom of the third with his team’s first hit of the afternoon. After one out was recorded, back-to-back hits by Tyler Myers and Chandler Johnson got Central on the board. However, it could have been much more. The Eagles loaded the bases with two out, but couldn’t get a key hit that could have gotten them right back into the game. They never had another opportunity.
The hosts scored the game’s final run in the last of the fifth. Dockery led off with a single, moved up to second on a one-out comebacker to the pitcher, and then scored when Chandler Johnson swatted his second single of the contest.
The Golden Eagles, who finished this game at 7-6 overall but 2-0 in Western Piedmont Athletic Conference play, took on Elkin in a late Wednesday night contest. Results were not available by press time for this issue. Central will play again on Friday night, weather permitting.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.