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Opportunities have surfaced infrequently for pitcher Connor Jinks during his two seasons with the Fike High varsity baseball team.
Jinks did work two innings last Thursday evening when the 3-A Big East Conference champion Golden Demons ended their regular season with a rout at Northern Nash.
But the biggest challenge awaited the 6-foot-6, 260-pound right-hander in Golden Leaf Invitational second-day action Monday at Fleming Stadium.
With Fike leading 5-3, starting Demons pitcher Tanner Sullivan, a senior left-hander, was lifted via the pitch count after retiring the first two Jamestown Ragsdale hitters in the top of the sixth inning.
Jinks was summoned. He responded by preserving Fike’s 5-3 victory and notched his first save. In 1 1/3 innings, Jinks spaced two hits and posted two strikeouts.
The outcome elevated Fike to 2-0 in the tournament and into status as a contender for the team championship among a handful of unbeatens in the 17-team field. Head coach Buck Edmundson’s squad climbed to 18-1 overall. The Tigers of the 4-A Metro Conference dropped to 10-11, 1-1 in the Golden Leaf.
“I wanted him to have a chance to pitch in a tournament like this,” Edmundson explained of his decision to relieve with Jinks. “He has worked just like everybody else and has thrown as many bullpens as anybody. He has good stuff — run on his fastball and command of his breaking ball. I felt good about putting him in.”
Jinks was greeted by a single off the bat of Tigers first baseman Derek Martinez. But a strikeout ended the inning. In the seventh, right fielder Jon Spillman singled with one out. Undaunted, Jinks ended the game by inducing a grounder to senior shortstop Zach Pittman and with a strikeout — with the third strike coming on a nasty curve ball.
“That’s my favorite pitch,” Jinks said.
“You have to be patient,” he described his plight. “You see the other guy out there doing his job; then, you have to take his place and hope to be able to finish what he started.
“I was just focused on delivering the pitch (Edmundson) called and putting it where he wanted it. It feels great to come through for the team — give us a 2-0 record and put us in a good spot to hopefully win the tournament.”
All of the scoring occurred in the first three innings as Sullivan, the winner, was not afforded the luxury of not pitching in traffic the first five innings.
The Tigers scored on two singles and catcher Willie Rumbos’ RBI ground out in the first. An error, singles by center fielder Willie Brown (bunt), left fielder Win Scott and third baseman Luke Pritchett and a bases-loaded walk to Martinez staked the Tigers to a 3-1 lead in the second.
Senior Fike catcher Garrett Browder led off with a double and eventually moved around on a wild pitch and passed ball in the first.
Starting senior Ragsdale right-handed pitcher Trey Jackson issued three walks and a hit batsman in Fike’s three-run second. The Demons were aided by a dropped outfield fly, and Sullivan helped his cause with an RBI infield hit.
Senior right fielder Myles Cyrus led off with a double in the third and came home on junior left fielder Colton Moats’ single. Moats drove in two runs.
The Tigers outhit Fike, 10-8.
“We didn’t get any breaks,” noted Tigers head coach Donnie Maness, a 1992 Barton College graduate. “We hit the ball well, but what we really didn’t do was swing the bats with runners in scoring position. Fike is a really good team and is, obviously, not going to give you anything.”
Of his starting pitcher’s command problems, Maness responded: “A lot of the time, he’s lights out; today, however, was a tough one. But we won’t lose faith in him.”
Summarized Fike’s Edmundson: “We’re just happy to come out with a win. We knew they were 4-A and knew they had played really good teams. They came out swinging the bats. For a few innings, every fastball I called, they were barreling up. But Tanner did his job and we found a way.”
Fike’s final Golden Leaf test Tuesday will be against 2-A South Granville. Edmundson will have senior right-hander Zach Pittman, junior right-hander Hunter Stokely and Jinks available for mound duty.
Score by innings:
Jamestown Ragsdale 120 000 0 — 3
Fike 131 000 x — 5
WP-Tanner Sullivan (6-0) 5 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO. LP-Trey Jackson 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 0 SO. S- Connor Jinks (1) 1 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Jamestown Ragsdale: Luke Pritchett 3-4, RBI; Win Scott 2-4, Jon Speelman 2-4; Fike: Garrett Browder 1-2, 2B, 2 R; Hunter Stokely 1-2 Tanner Sullivan 1-3, RBI; Myles Cyrus 1-4, 2B; Colton Moats 1-3, 2 RBI; Bryan Bunn 1-3, R.