TARBORO – The job of the lead-off batter, no matter the inning, is to reach base. However possible, if the first batter of the inning is on base, it’s a good thing.
Tarboro re-learned that lesson the hard way Thursday in the de facto semifinal of the Tarboro Easter Baseball Classic.
Watauga had its first runner reach base in each of the first five innings, while Tarboro waited six innings before first baseman Joe Miller led off the seventh inning with a walk.
The result – although much closer after Tarboro’s lone good start – was a 6-3 victory in Watauga’s favor as the Vikings fell into today’s third-place game.
“Once that lead-off man gets on, that puts pressure on the pitcher,” Miller said. “Anything can happen really.”
After Miller’s lead-off walk, Tarboro’s next four batters reached base, but without a spectacular diving catch and a base-running blunder, the Vikings (8-8, 4-1 Two Rivers Conference) likely would be playing in the championship game tonight rather than a 4:30 p.m. matchup against Merry Hill Lawrence Academy in the third-place game.
“It’s so huge getting your lead-off guy on,” Tarboro first-year coach Chris O’Neill said. “You can get the small ball a little more in play. To not be able to do that, it really hurt us a lot.”
Watauga, which followed its lead-off strikeout in the sixth inning with back-to-back singles, will play Southampton Academy (Va.) at 7 tonight at Municipal Stadium in the championship game.
“There’s not a place better to be than right here,” said O’Neill, hoping his players would find something to play for today. “This is the best place to be in the world. We need to focus on that. We’re still going to have a crowd here. We still have people to play for.”
Tarboro watched as Watauga took advantage of its early runners, but when the Vikings finally followed suit, they had a chance to erase a six-run deficit.
The Vikings’ first five batters of the seventh inning reached base, but left fielder Dawson Harris was thrown out trying to advance to third base on a ground ball to the shortstop.
With the bases loaded just three batters later, Sam Flythe’s sinking line drive into right field found the glove of Watauga’s Matt Tyndall, who made a back-handed diving catch for the second out.
“As a team, we can beat near about anybody if we play our hardest,” Miller said. “We just turned it on a little too late (Thursday).”
W 040 200 0 – 6 12 1
T 000 010 2 – 3 4 2
WP: Matt Lambert (6.1IP, 3R, 3ER, 4H, 4BB, 7K); LP: Jordyn Holland (1.2IP, 4R, 4ER, 7H, 1BB, 2K).
2B: Jesse Illick (W), Matt Lambert (W).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org