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Gryphons nab first win behind freshman Hart

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Rocky Mount High’s Ben Sieracki, right, is tagged out at third base by Cleveland’s Peyton Marr Monday at Rocky Mount High School.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Monday, March 5, 2018

In a season that will largely be defined by a slew of underclassmen on the varsity team, an age-related scenario hit Rocky Mount High coach Carter Varnell in the fourth inning of his third game coaching the Gryphons.

After two 1-2-3 innings to begin his career, freshman starting pitcher Evan Hart showed some vulnerability in the third, relinquishing three hits, a walk and two runs, ending the inning with a flyout that stranded two runners on second and third base.

To throw Hart back out for the fourth after a road bump was the question; Varnell opted to trust his guy, and the freshman retired the side in the fourth in four batters. Tied at two runs apiece when he left the mound, the Gryphons scored four in the bottom of the fourth and held on for the 7-3 victory over Clayton-Cleveland at RMHS.

It was Rocky Mount’s first win of the season, Varnell’s first as a varsity coach, and Hart’s first victory on the mound as a high schooler.

“We thought about taking him out after the third,” Varnell said. “It was a big moment for him. Possibly a first win. He had a little jam, we thought, ‘Let’s see how he bounces back in the fourth inning.’ Those starters, that’s something you’ve got to do. You give up a run, you’ve got to go back into the game and compete. He did that in the fourth.”

Hart finished with three strikeouts, three hits and two runs in four innings, with sophomore Connor Powell pitching the fifth and senior Jamar Ellis coming on to pitch the final two frames.

“I came into the game wanting to make sure I get ground balls, keeping the ball low,” Hart said. “It was my first time in a real game but the couple of scrimmages we had I did well in.”

The Gryphons (1-2), who scored their seven runs on six hits, were aided by nine walks in all issued by the Rams. A few timely hits — something that had evaded them in two losses to Nash Central to open the season — came in fourth inning. A double by Lane Butler knocked in a runner from third, Victor Ward followed with an RBI single and Ben Sieracki broke the game open with a two RBI double, making the score 6-2.

“We struggled against Central to score with runners in scoring position,” Varnell said. “We still left some on tonight, but we got a timely hit here and there, a few breaks.”

Cleveland’s biggest threat came against Ellis, who Varnell turned into a reliever this season after a few years off the mound, in the sixth inning. The Rams loaded the bases after on a hit-batsmen, a walk and a single with one out.

But Ellis pitched a forceout at home and a pop out to second to end the inning, and retired the side without allowing a run in the seventh to close out the victory.

“The idea was, put that guy out there with the experience, with the guts,” Varnell said. “A guy we know we can trust, cool and collected on the mound.”

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