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The 3-A Big East Conference varsity baseball race is now officially Fike High’s to lose.
With one swing of the bat Thursday night, it was junior catcher Garrett Browder that tilted the conference standings squarely in the direction of the Golden Demons.
Having already hit a solo home run in the fourth inning against archrival Hunt, Browder, a transfer from the Warriors, uncorked a grand slam to left field in the sixth inning, highlighting a six-run rampage that lifted Fike to a 10-2 victory at Gilbert Ferrell Field.
Fike, which moved to 14-3 overall and 6-0 in conference play, took a two-game lead over Hunt (11-6, 4-2 Big East) with four conference games remaining. The Warriors, who have won outright or shared the last two Big East titles, were handed a jarring blow in their hopes of joining the conversation for the third straight year.
“I love every single one of those guys,” Browder, who transferred to take advantage of Fike’s IB program, said. “I have no hard feelings with any of them. It’s a big rivalry. I don’t think there was any hard feelings. I know I don’t have any hard feelings towards them, and I hope there’s none towards us.”
Browder, who was 3 for 4 with five runs batted in, provided the critical offensive blow once Hunt senior right-hander Dom Gaetano departed the game having thrown 99 pitches over five-plus innings. But in a 4-2 game in the sixth, trouble loomed for the Warriors once senior Jackson Terry and sophomore Mason Lee reached on consecutive singles. A walk to sophomore Trevor Mills at the top of the order spelled the end of Gaetano’s evening.
With senior Hunter Barnes unavailable out of the bullpen due to an injury sustained in Tuesday’s game, Hunt turned to sophomore right-hander Patrick Clark. However, Fike junior Zach Pittman worked a four-pitch walk to force in Terry. On the first pitch of Browder’s at-bat, he saw a fastball and carried it deep into the spring sky. It was the first two-homer game of Browder’s career and his first two long balls of 2018.
“(Clark) had thrown four straight to Zach,” Browder said. “He threw a fastball, and it was out over the plate. I was just trying to put a good swing on it.”
Junior Myles Cyrus doubled in Fike’s sixth run of the inning to account for the final margin.
Fike, which doubled up Hunt in hits by a 10-5 margin, was backed on the mound by the second victory against the Warriors in three days by sophomore Chad Bean. Bean, who worked 3 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in Tuesday’s 10-inning contest, held Hunt to two hits Thursday. He struck out three and walked six in five innings of work.
Hunt loaded the bases in the fourth with three walks, but Bean, now 6-2 on the year, escaped harm after getting an 0-2 fastball to pop the outside corner for a called third strike.
“We needed this game,” Fike head coach Buck Edmundson said. “Especially after the other night. Hunt battled hard, and it was a hard-fought game Tuesday night. It was a long game, and I knew it took a lot out of our pitching.”
Senior Jaelynn Melton, who dropped in a two-run single in the third, threw the final two innings for Fike. The Warriors reached Melton for both of their runs in the sixth. After sophomore Tyson Bass singled and freshman Blaize Keen doubled, Josh Fuller beat out an infield single to plate Bass. But while Fike was lamenting the play at first, Keen rounded third and briefly cut the Demons’ lead to 4-2 before Fike’s six-run outburst put it away in the sixth.
“The loss is what it is,” Hunt head coach Jon Smith said. “We’ve got to move on and worry about playing the best that we can play.”
Fuller was the only Hunt player with more than one hit. Gaetano, touched for seven runs on seven hits, doubled in the second. Pittman drove in two runs for Fike and singled in the second.
Score by innings:
WP-Chad Bean (6-2) 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 BB, 3 SO. LP-Dom Gaetano 5 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Fike: Garrett Browder 3-4, 2 HR, 5 RBI, Jaelynn Melton 1-2, 2 RBI, Zach Pittman 1-3, 2 RBI, Myles Cyrus 1-3, 2B, R; Hunt: Josh Fuller 2-4, RBI, Dom Gaetano 1-2, 2B, Blaize Keen 1-2, 2B.