Despite the temperature hovering right around 40 degrees Thursday afternoon, Rocky Mount Academy pitcher MJ Jones never felt cold as he walked off the mound after each passing inning.
Throwing a few pitches helped, but dominating Halifax Academy made it even easier.
Jones didn’t allow an earned run and struck out 14, including the final nine batters he faced, as the Eagles rebounded to win their Eastern Plains Independent Conference opener, 16-2, in five innings.
“It was cold every inning, but after a while it just got warm,” said Jones, who worked for the past four months on his curveball, which he used to record the majority of his strikeouts. “I got in a rhythm and just kept going.”
After the first two batters reached base on a pair of misplayed pop-ups, Jones threw just one more bad pitch – a two-out double that plated Halifax Academy’s only runs. He struck out three batters in four of the five innings, and he struck out two in the second inning.
Down by two after the top of the first, Rocky Mount Academy (3-1, 1-0 EPIC) responded with 16 unanswered runs.
Rocky Mount Academy coach Pat Smith was happy to see his team put together hits and complete a game, especially after the Eagles lost a five-run lead in their last contest – their only loss of the season thus far.
“I was so disheartened after we blew that 5-0, I’d been kind of hard on them the past couple days,” Smith said. “I felt like we were a lot better than we played against Harrells. ... I was glad to see us get some hits because we’ve been averaging around six hits a game. At least, (Thursday) it was more.”
Five different batters recorded an extra-base hit, and five players drove in more than one run.
Everybody on the starting roster reached base and all but one scored.
“We didn’t get out of the game once we got up,” shortstop Trey Medlin said. “We just stayed in the game instead of laying down. ... Any team can come back. We just need to make sure we play the full game. After, we can relax.”
The first three batters in three of the four innings Rocky Mount Academy was at bat scored, and the Eagles recorded 36 plate appearances.
It didn’t seem as though the plunging temperatures affected much of the game at all.
“It affected the coaching,” Smith said with a laugh. “It affected the coaching because I was pretty tight down there.”
Rocky Mount Academy split the regular-season conference title with in-town rival Faith Christian last year.
The two teams also met in the NCISAA 2-A state semifinals. The Eagles’ next hurdle is a matchup against Kinston Parrott Academy on Tuesday.
Smith said that Faith Christian, Kinston Parrott and his own team likely will be the frontrunners in the conference.
“It’s going to be a tough league between Parrott, Faith, us, Kerr Vance can beat some people, St. David’s – don’t count them out,” Smith said. “... We’ll just take them one at a time and see what happens.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org