Having only one senior starter to lead a group of underclassmen through the Three Rivers Conference has been a challenge in itself. Factor in a series of injuries and illnesses, and it’s overwhelming.
The Raiders (2-20) were down to nine players for Wednesday night’s game against St. Paul, Va., and coach Steve Dixon had no trouble picking his starters.
One injured player had returned but another got hurt, then three boys were out sick.
St. Paul, propelled by Tyler Phillips’ strong clutch pitching and an 11-hit attack, defeated North 8-6.
“St. Paul has a good team,’’ Dixon said. “(The Deacons) are a senior-dominated ballclub. It seems everybody we play has a lot of seniors. Here we are with barely enough players for a lineup.
“We had to move people around tonight and it hurt us defensively.’’
St. Paul (10-3), the Cumberland District leader with a 5-0 record, took command of the game early by opening a 6-2 lead. North came alive and tied the score 6-6.
The Deacons struck for two more runs in the sixth on a hit by Corey Ellis, David Kiser’s sacrifice and a throwing error that allowed Dillon Cridlin to round the bases.
Phillips, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior right-hander, made the 8-6 lead stand. He’s headed for Virginia-Wise to play quarterback on the Highland Cavaliers’ football team. Phillips (3-1) may check out the baseball climate there before deciding if he’ll concentrate on just one sport.
“Tyler was throwing in the mid-80s tonight,’’ St. Paul coach Chris Clay said. “When he’s throwing that slider for a strike, he’s tough.’’
Clay said four senior starters have accounted for about half of the Deacons’ hits.
“This bunch got their behinds kicked the last couple of years and they’ve put in the time to improve,’’ he said. “When we come across the state line to play, we usually hold back our top pitchers because of the district race. This time was different. It worked out that we could throw one of our big guys.’’
Dixon said he’s seen St. Paul develop into a competitive team. “We’ve played them in summer games and watched them steadily progress.’’
St. Paul’s batting leaders were Phillips with a double and two singles, Dallas Hileman and Ellis each with a double and single and Reid Edmonds with a two-run single. Cridlin also had a double.
Top performers at the plate for North were Cody Faulkner with three singles, Brett Jennings with a pair of one-baggers and Jared Houston with a double and single.
Zach Ball went the distance for North.