Diamond Knights down Johnson Co. and Bishop England in Savannah Classic

Wes McCard

February 25, 2014

SAVANNAH - The Upson-Lee Knights baseball team packed up and headed to Savannah after school Thursday to play in the Savannah Baseball Classic over the weekend. On Friday the Knights took on Johnson County and on Saturday Upson-Lee faced off with Bishop England High School from Charleston, South Carolina.

Upson-Lee moved their overall record on the 2014 season to 3-0 with a 2-1 extra inning victory over Johnson County on Friday and an 11-2 drubbing of Bishop England on Saturday. Last season, Bishop England finished with a 21-6 record and finished as the AA State Runners-Up in South Carolina.

“It was a great trip for us,” said UL head coach Wayne Puckett. “We were able to play a couple of games in a minor league stadium against some really good teams that we otherwise would never see. I thought the guys played really well, and handled themselves in a manmer which would make Upson-Lee High School and the City of Thomaston proud. This year we seem to have great team chemistry, and the guys really look forward to getting on the field and getting better everyday. We have pitched really well this season, and we have played great defense. That’s the biggest reason we are 3-0 so far this season. We will find out how good we really are on Tuesday when we face a good Woodland team. It’s a big region game for us, and the guys are looking forward to the challenge.”

In game one the Knights took on Johnson County from Region 3B in Class A. Last season the Cougars finished with a 22-7 record and advanced to the second round of the State Playoffs.

In the top of the first inning, the Cougars led off with a bloop double off UL pitcher Kyle Kelly. The Cougars then sacrificed the runner over to second base, giving the Knights their first out of the game. Later in the inning, Johnson County attempted to steal third base, but the Knight’s throw sailed over the head of UL third baseman Matt Crews, scoring the Cougars runner and giving Johnson County a 1-0 lead.

Kelly pitched around the Knights’ throwing error, and recorded the last out of the inning without any further damage. Over the next three innings, Kelly didn’t give up another run and only allowed two hits and struck out four batters. In the top of the fourth inning, Upson-Lee turned to freshman Kalen Puckett to toe the rubber. Puckett took over right where Kelly left off and pitched beautifully for the Knights. Puckett finished the game pitching five innings, allowing zero runs, allowing three hits, and striking out two batters.

The Knights evened things up in the bottom of the sixth inning. Kalen Puckett started the inning off with a solid single to left field. On the very next pitch, Puckett stole second base, and was then bunted over to third base by Kyle Kelly on a sacrifice bunt. With a runner at third, the Johnson County pitcher threw a curve ball in the dirt which escaped the catcher’s grasp. Puckett raced home to score on the wild pitch, tying the game up at 1-1.

The score remained 1-1 for the next three innings. With the game in extra innings, the Knights turned to senior Dalton Strom to pitch the top of the ninth inning. Strom retired the Cougars without a run scoring, as Upson-Lee headed into the bottom of the ninth inning.

Chris Duncan led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a solid single to right field. Coach Puckett sent out Levi Long to pinch run for Duncan. With Matt Crews at the plate, the Knights gambled with a hit and run play. Crews laced a line drive down the right field line, and with Long running on the pitch, he was able to slide into home plate safely, giving the Knights a 2-1 victory on Crews’ walk-off double.

Matt Crews led the Knights with two hits and the game-winning RBI in the contest. Kalen Puckett added a hit, a run scored, and two stolen bases. Chris Duncan and Elijah Hill each added hits in the game, while Levi Long scored the game winning run.

On Saturday afternoon, the Knights took on Bishop England High School from Charleston, SC. The Knights exploded for 11 runs on the defending South Carolina State Runners-Up, earning an 11-2 victory.

Junior Elijah Hill was the starting pitcher for Upson-Lee, and before he ever took the mound, the Knights sent four runners across the plate in the top of the first inning.

Kyle Kelly reached base on a walk, followed by a booming double from junior Logan Fowler. With runners on third and second, Chris Duncan drew a walk to load the bases. The next five minutes of the game were confusing to most, especially to the Bishop England players and coaches.

The home plate umpire called two balks in a row on the Bishop England pitcher, scoring two runs for the Knights. Apparently, the Bishop England pitcher’s lead leg was pointing towards first base rather than a straight line towards home plate while he was in the stretch.

With a 2-0 lead, Matt Crews laid down a perfect suicide-safety squeeze bunt, scoring the run and reaching base on the bunt. Upson-Lee senior Brandon Blount followed with a bases loaded walk, and the Knights led 4-0 at the end of the top of the first inning.

The Knights added two more runs in the top of the second inning. UL freshman Zack Gooden led the inning off with his first career high school hit, a line drive to left field. Kalen Puckett then reached on an error, followed by a double steal from Gooden and Puckett. With runners on second and third base, Logan Fowler flied out to deep right field, scoring Gooden on the sacrifice fly. Senior Chris Duncan followed with a booming double in the gap to left-center field, scoring Puckett from third base, and giving UL a 6-0 lead.

The game remained at a 6-0 score until Bishop England scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Knights answered with another run in the top of the fifth inning. After Logan Fowler walked, Duncan recorded his second hit of the game with a single to right field. Crews followed with a sacrifice bunt, moving Fowler to third base and Duncan to second base. Brandon Blount scored Fowler with his first hit of the season, and the Knights held a 7-2 lead.

Justin Shaw came in for the Knights in relief in the top of the sixth inning. Shaw pitched two innings, allowing just one hit and striking out one batter.

The Knights offensive onslaught was not over, as they scored four more runs in the top of the seventh inning. Bennett Pardue led the inning off with a walk and advanced to second base on a solid base hit from Dalton Strom. Upson-Lee catcher Ben Spiller drilled a fastball over the left fielder’s head, scoring Pardue and Strom, giving Upson-Lee a 9-2 lead. Kaleb Allen was then hit by a pitch in the left knee, but made his way down to first base. Upson-Lee’s C.J. Allison then followed with a base hit to right field, scoring Spillers from second base, and giving Upson-Lee a 10-2 lead. The Knights final run came after Logan Fowler was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, as the Knights earned an 11-2 victory.

Chris Duncan paced the Knights with two hits, a run scored, and a RBI. Logan Fowler added a hit, two runs, and two RBI. Matt Crews and C.J. Allison each tallied a hit, a run scored, and a RBI, while Ben Spillers finished with a hit, run scored, and two RBI. Kalen Puckett, Dalton Strom, Kyle Kelly, Brandon Blount, and Zack Gooden each tallied hits, with Blount also adding a RBI. Bennet Pardue and Kaleb Allen each scored runs in the game.

The Knights will hit the road today to play in their first region game of the year against Woodland. First pitch is slated for 5:30 p.m. at Woodland High School in Stockbridge.

Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21