‘Hawks Let Early Lead Slip Away to Dreher

 

Westwood’s Austin Garner (3) strokes a 3-2 pitch into right-center for a 2RBI single. (Photo/Deanna Robinson)

BLYTHEWOOD – The Redhawks’ baseball squad was in the hunt Friday for their first win of the season. But after a promising start, Westwood saw an early 2-0 lead melt away, falling to the Dreher Blue Devils 7-2 in their home Region IV opener.

Dreher’s senior hurler Seth Kays looked shaky in the Friday evening twilight. As the shadows stretched in crooked fingers across the diamond in the bottom of the first, Kays struggled to find the strike zone, walking the first two Redhawk batters – T.J. White and Matt Kiely. Kays rebounded to retire Ray Branson, but a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by Jackson Evans pushed the runners to second and third. With one out, Austin Garner stroked a 3-2 pitch into right-center for a 2RBI single and the Redhawks were on the board.

Holding an early advantage, the ‘Hawks would now have to find a way to make it stick. But Kays, who eventually tossed 30 pitches before finally getting out of the inning, with only 14 of those pitches going for strikes, only got stronger as the game went on. Kays would go on to work the complete game, racking up 93 pitches – 67 for strikes, while only throwing a dozen more balls through seven innings. The Redhawks, meanwhile, once again fell victim to the big inning and their early 2-0 lead was erased as quickly as it had been achieved.

In the top of the second Branson, the Westwood sophomore southpaw, retired the first two Blue Devils on three pitches – Tyler Flemming on a pop-up to short and Patrick Fretwell on a 1-0 fly to deep center. With the bottom of the order coming up, the Redhawks were thinking easy 1-2-3 inning; but the Devils were thinking rally. William Pauling got the wheels turning for the Devils, lining his first pitch back up the middle for a single. Alex Jeter drew the free pass out of the nine-hole and Dreher leadoff man Harris Courson reached on an infield error to load the bases. Grayson Stiglbauer then lined an RBI single past a diving Thomas Castles at second, scoring Pauling. Jeter scored from second on the throw in from the outfield and the game was tied. Dreher’s Ben Herring continued the two-out magic with an RBI single, scoring Courson. Kays, proving his mettle at the plate as well as on the mound, then doubled in Stiglbauer to put Dreher up 4-2. Herring would eventually come in to score as well, and by the time the inning was over, the Blue Devils had batted around, pushing 5 runs across.

“We’ve got to get that killer instinct when we’re out in front,” first-year Westwood head coach Jonathan Burroughs said, “when we get out front and stay out front. We will. We’ll get there. Every day we learn.”

Now staked to a 5-2 lead, Kays’ first-inning struggles were a thing of the past. Although he plunked DeAndre Jennings to lead off the bottom of the second, the miscue didn’t cost the Devils as Jennings was gunned down while trying to swipe second by Dreher catcher Herring. Ian Miller then popped out to second and Kays struck out Rashawn Green on three pitches to end the inning. Now in a groove, Kays retired the ‘Hawks in order in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings, and faced only four batters in the fifth and seventh innings.

“We’ve got to be disciplined at the plate and hit his fastball – not hit his pitch, hit our pitch,” Burroughs said. “We’ll get there.”

Kays finished the night with 13 strikeouts and only two walks. He gave up just two hits and no earned runs while facing 26 Westwood batters.

Branson settled in as well, giving up only a one-out single in the third before inducing a pair of fly-outs to end the inning. A leadoff single in the fourth went to waste for the Devils as Branson recorded three straight outfield fly-outs to strand the runner. Branson recorded three strikeouts in the fifth, but a one-out single by Dreher’s Fretwell proved costly. Fretwell moved into scoring position on an infield error and scored on a wild pitch, giving Dreher a 6-2 lead. Branson gave up his final run of the night in the sixth after Herring tripled with one out and came around to score on Kays’ ground-out to short to make it 7-2 Dreher. Branson threw 117 pitches on the night, 42 for balls and 75 for strikes. Kiely came on in the seventh to wrap things up with 14 pitches, stranding Jeter at third by striking out Courson.

Branson struck out four Blue Devils, walking a pair and giving up 11 hits. Five of his seven runs were earned.

“(Branson) gave us a shot to win, and that’s all we ask: give us a shot to win,” Burroughs said. “We’ve got to quit relapsing into ‘last year’.”

With only three seniors on this year’s squad, Burroughs understands the growing pains that come along with a fledgling program.

“We’re making strides,” Burroughs said. “It’s five steps forward, three steps back. The hump is there, we’ve just got to get over it.”

The Redhawks were scheduled to host Brookland-Cayce Wednesday, then travel to Camden Friday for a 6:30 start and host Richland Northeast Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

DHS – 0-5-0-0-1-1-0 – 7-11-1

WHS – 2-0-0-0-0-0-0 – 2-2-3

WP: Kays (D). LP: Branson (W).

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