Union slips past North with crazy inning

George Thwaites • Mar 30, 2013 at 12:42 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Sullivan North headed up U.S. 23 on Friday to discover that baseball is pretty much the same as it has been for the Golden Raiders in Tennessee lately. North faced good pitching in a hard-fought contest played in cold weather. And there were some calls that left coach Steve Dixon’s temples throbbing.

Union scored three runs off an error, a hit by pitch and a sacrifice bunt in a confusing sixth-inning at-bat that lifted the Bears to a 4-1 non-district win over the Golden Raiders.

“We got a little screwed on those calls, but we’ve got to hit the ball better to get the win,” said North pitcher Chase Arnold, who’d confined Union to one run prior to the sixth-inning circus.

Arnold (0-2) was correct about the lack of hit support. Lead-off man Cory Rowe’s fourth-inning infield single was the sole base hit North (2-6) managed to muster against Union’s Derrick Watkins and Hunter Neece.

Even taking Arnold’s subjective stake into account, the kid was understandably dismayed by the method of his undoing. The game was tied at 1 when Union’s Will Hubbard got on board thanks to a dropped fly ball in left field. Then Arnold put Ethan Villiard on with a plunk the North pitcher was convinced was fouled off the bat handle.

Neece then grounded the ball to Rowe, the North shortstop, who raced Villiard to second base to make the tag before turning the double play with the throw to first. Neece beat the throw, but Villiard rounded second and kept going.

“The ump calls the guy out at second on a double-play ball then turns around and says he’s safe. (Villiard) just ran free because we thought he was out,” Dixon said. “He was out.” In the meantime, Hubbard scored the go-ahead run. Villiard was subsequently thrown out at the plate on Austin Baker’s fielder’s choice. Ben Baugh’s sacrifice bunt down the first base line plated Neece and Baker. Aaron Minnick subsequently caught Tanner Hall stealing second for the third out, the second Bears runner of the day erased by the North catcher. “Don’t take anything away from Union, because they probably still would’ve won 2-1. They’re a good team and it was a great ballgame. We made some great plays today. But that one changed the nature of the game,” said Dixon, whose team turned two double plays.

Neece, who relieved Watkins in the sixth when the starter reached his pitch limit, retired the Raiders in order in the final frame.

“They’re always a good team, we knew we had to come out and play our best to win,” said Neece (2-0).

The Bears (3-0) initiated scoring in the third inning on an RBI single by Hubbard. Union coach J.W. Salyers said he understood how the call at second colored North’s choices that inning.

“Tip your hat to North, they played a great ballgame. But we put pressure on them and this time it worked out in our favor,” Salyers said.

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