NORTON — Even though the seeding for next week's Region 1A West tournament was already a done deal, Friday night's Cumberland Conference 48 baseball championship game at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium was plenty meaningful for both teams.
For what it's worth, it was also kind of a thing of beauty.
Eastside plated three runs in the third inning, riding backup arms to a 3-0 win over J.I. Burton to claim the championship.
"A lot of people are saying this game doesn't mean anything. That's not true. If you've got real umpires and the lights are on, it means something," said Eastside coach Chris Clay, who got a combined shutout from southpaw Austin Smallwood (2-0) and right-hander J.D. Slone with a closing save from Cody Funk.
"The jury is still out, but that may be the first true save by an Eastside pitcher," Clay quipped.
The Spartans (17-5) wanted to rest their top arms for next week no matter what. But they wanted to win. And they expected resistance.
"That was the real Norton. We'd seen not so good an effort out of them the first two times, but we knew they weren't somebody you can overlook," said Clay, whose team opens regional play against Holston at Coeburn on Monday.
"They're a good baseball team. The fact of the matter is, if they weren't doing the same thing we were pitching-wise and ran (Burton ace Matt) Branham out there, who's to say it's not even closer than that?"
Burton coach Jimbo Adams' pitchers accorded themselves very nearly as ably as Clay's guys.
Landon Mullins (3-4) pitched two shutout innings before giving up a leadoff single to Matt Green in the third. Top-of-the-order hitter Kobe Lawson legged out a bunt single, then Ryan Milgrim — who went 2-for-2 — plated Green on a single.
Lawson scored on Caleb Riner's groundout and Milgrim eventually scored on a wild pitch.
Tre Adams came on in the fourth and kept the Raiders' foot in the door with some inscrutable off-speed junk that proved unhittable for three innings.
"They jump out of their shoes. He's 3-0 on the season. He isn't going to overpower anybody, but he doesn't walk people either," said Coach Adams , whose squad travels to face bruising Honaker on Monday. "You don't want to walk people. With these things they call bats nowadays, it's hard to string together enough hits to score runs."
Burton (13-10) evidently coveted the tournament title as much as Eastside did. But the Raiders let a couple prime scoring opportunities slip through their fingers.
In the second inning, Kevin Van Ness led off with a single, was sac bunted to second by J.W. Wharton and stole third only to get caught in a rundown. Moments later Isaac Davis tripled, a second chance that died on the vine when Smallwood struck out Ken Knox for the third out.
In the fifth, Austin Johnson's bloop single to left got a two-out rally started for Burton. Matt Buchanan reached base on an error at third and Van Ness — the cleanup hitter — was up.
The rally evaporated when Johnson was gunned down attempting to steal third.
"Both pitchers pitched well enough to win. We had some poor at-bats at bad times and we looked like the Bad News Bears on the bases and that's my fault," Jimbo Adams said. "That's on me. I'm responsible and I've got to do a better job."comments powered by Disqus