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At first pitch at 10:03 p.m. at Fleming Stadium on Friday night, archrivals Fike and Hunt shared the 3-A Big East Conference varsity baseball lead.
When the final out was recorded at 12:20 a.m. Saturday, Fike owned sole possession of the conference top spot, rallying to a 5-2 victory in the late-starting series finale.
The Golden Demons had climbed into a tie for first place with a 6-0 triumph against Hunt on Wednesday night.
The rematch was originally scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Hunt, but the field could not be readied after Friday’s intermittent rain. Head coaches Jon Smith of Hunt and Buck Edmundson of Fike learned Fleming Stadium was playable and available upon the conclusion of the college game between Barton and Erskine — which finally ended at 9:37 p.m. Wilson County Schools Athletic Director Jimmy Tillman granted permission for the late start.
Influencing playing late Friday was Hunt High’s prom on Saturday, the forecast of more rain, the attempt to limit the teams to three games per week, limiting rescheduled games in hopes of keeping the conference tournament intact and more conflicts for each school.
“I didn’t want to play that late too badly,” Smith admitted, “but we had the opportunity to play. Everybody was here and Buck was in agreement. We lost, but I’m glad we got it in. I think the kids enjoyed it.”
Responded Edmundson: “It was a little unorthodox starting so late and all. But (Saturday) was out and we wanted to get it in today if at all possible. Fleming had a better playing surface and we mutually agreed.”
“I still wanted to play really bad,” commented winning Fike pitcher Tanner Sullivan. “It didn’t matter what time; we wanted to beat Hunt again.”
Hunt center fielder Trey Dail, the lone senior in the starting lineup, described the late-night experience as “fun but kind of tiring. But you’ve got to be ready to go any time.”
The Demons boltled to 5-1 in the conference and to 12-1 overall. Hunt, the host team, came away 4-2 and 10-3, respectively.
After starting Hunt pitcher Gavin Huff, a sophomore right-hander, squirmed out of a bases-loaded, first-inning jam, the Warriors jolted the Demons with two runs in the bottom of the first.
Sophomore shortstop Blaize Keen led off with a double and, with two outs, sophomore first baseman Jarrett Aycock and Dail each slammed RBI doubles.
However, Sullivan, a senior left-hander, proceeded to blank Hunt without a hit the next four innings en route to his third win without a loss.
“I was throwing across my body and closing myself off,” Sullivan explained. I had to open up more and follow through. Coach Edmundson trusted me a lot tonight.”
Back-to-back hit batters spelled trouble for Hunt’s Huff in the third. Sullivan blasted a two-run triple that produced a 2-2 tie.
“Coach E told me to just follow up on what we do every day in the cage,” Sullivan said, “just hitting it up the middle and don’t try to hit a home run. That gave us a huge lift.”
Aided by another hit batsman, Fike plated the go-ahead run in the fifth. An error led to junior infielder Chad Bean’s two-out RBI single.
The Demons added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth against Warriors’ junior right-handed reliever Tyson Bass. Junior center fielder Mason Lee singled and senior right fielder Myles Cyrus drew a walk. Junior infielder Hunter Stokely laced a run-scoring single and senior catcher Garrett Browder added a sacrifice fly, a deep drive to left field.
Bass squandered a seventh-inning Fike threat by picking off two base runners.
For Fike, senior right-hander Zach Pittman relieved Sullivan and snuffed Hunt threats in each of the last two innings, notching his second save.
Sullivan departed after Bass’ infield hit and a walk in the sixth. Pittman relieved and retired the next three batters, getting Dail on a pop fly to shortstop.
“I was trying to hit a three-run home run and tie the game,” Dail acknowledged. “I was thinking about myself and I shouldn’t have done that.”
With two out in the seventh, Keen and sophomore Hunt catcher Chase Waddell each singled, but the threat died seconds later. A Pittman pitch skipped away from Browder, However, Browder retrieved the baseball and cut down Keen, who was attempting to advance to third base.
“I felt really good,” Sullivan reviewed his performance. “I wish I could have that first inning back. But I made adjustments and threw four scoreless innings. That helped a whole bunch.”
Edmundson lauded Sullivan and added: “Zach came through — but he’s done that before. Still, that was good for him. Zach has been a go-getter and leader for me for four years. Hunt came out strong, but we manufactured enough runs to win. It was a good ole Fike-Hunt game.”
And as Sullivan noted: “Beating Rocky Mount and Hunt (twice) back-to-back weeks is a huge momentum swing.”
The Demons have a home and away with Big East foe Franklinton next week and then host Greenville Rose for a nonconference test Saturday.
Summarized Hunt’s Smith: “Fike outplayed us. Tanner did a really good job of adjusting and we didn’t make adjustments. Fike made plays and we were unable to make plays. We made it tough on ourselves and, when you do that against a team like Fike, they are going to capitalize. We are just so young, but we’ve just got to get better.”
The Warriors brace for next week’s two-game battle for second place with Rocky Mount.
“One week does not make a season,” Smith contended, “but next week is huge.”
Score by innings:
Fike 002 012 0 — 5
Hunt 200 000 0 — 2
WP-Tanner Sullivan (3-0) 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO. LP-Gavin Huff 4 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 Bb, 6 SO. S- Zach Pittman (2) 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Fike:Tanner Sullivan 2-4, 3B, 2 RBI; Hunter Stokely 2-4, 2B, RBI; Garrett Brooks 1-1, RBI; Chad Bean 1-3, RBI; Hunt: Blaize Keen 2-3, Jarrett Aycock 1-2, 2B, RBI; Trey Dail 1-3, 2B, RBI.