Long ball dooms Knights in 5-3 defeat

Wes McCard

March 11, 2014

The Upson-Lee baseball team looked to sweep three region games in a row when they took on Stockbridge at Silvertown Ballpark on Friday night. After back-to-back shutouts against Eagles Landing and North Clayton earlier in the week, a victory over the Tigers would move the Knights record to 7-1, and more importantly 4-0 in region play.

However, two pitches from Upson-Lee starter Dalton Strom proved costly in the Knights 5-3 defeat to the Tigers. Strom pitched a complete game, throwing 99 pitches and recording a season high 10 strikeouts. Of Strom’s 99 pitches thrown, 68 were thrown for strikes, while Strom also threw first pitch strikes to 24 of 28 batters faced. Unfortunately, two of Strom’s 99 pitches were hit for two-run homers in the fourth and sixth inning.

“I really thought this was one of the best games I’ve seen Dalton pitch,” said Upson-Lee head coach Wayne Puckett. “He had good velocity and mixed up his pitches really well. He threw close to 100 pitches and only missed his spots a couple of times; it’s just those two times ended up being hit over the fence with a runner on base. I would take that performance from Dalton every time out; he just got unlucky on a couple of missed spots. We as a team should have hit the ball better to help him out. It’s tough for any pitcher to win a game when offensively the team only gets four hits. However, take away those two pitches and we still win the game, but that’s not the way it works. We have got to hit the baseball better. I like where we are with our pitching staff, and our defense has been fairly good, but we have got to do better at the plate.”

Strom retired the top of the first inning in order, striking out two of the first three batters in the game, but it was in the top of the second where the Tigers put their first notch on the scoreboard. After back-to-back singles to place runners at first and second to lead off the inning, the Knights recorded a 6-3 unassisted double play, as Kalen Puckett fielded a ground ball, stepped on the second base bag, and threw out the runner at first base. Unfortunately for Upson-Lee, the Tigers’ runner at third base came home to score with two outs on a passed ball, giving them a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Knights looked as if they were ready jump on the Tigers with an offensive assault. Upson-Lee recorded three of their four hits in the game in the bottom of the third inning, but only scored one run.

Kalen Puckett walked with one out and then stole second base. Upson-Lee junior Kyle Kelly followed with a line drive single to right field, scoring Puckett and giving Kelly his team leading sixth RBI of the season. With the game tied 1-1, Logan Fowler and Matt Crews each followed with singles to load the bases with one out, but the Knights struck out swinging twice to end the inning.

In the top of the fourth inning, Strom struck out the side, but in the fifth Strom gave up a lead off single to shallow right field and missed on a fast ball up in the zone to Zach Ledbetter who blasted the pitch well over the left field fence for a two-run homer and a 3-1 Stockbridge lead.

Leading by a 3-1 score in the top of the sixth inning, the Tigers added two more runs on just one swing of the bat. After recording two quick outs in the inning, Strom gave up a single to Ledbetter, and it was Shean Kennedy who took a fast ball on the outside corner over the fence in center field, adding to the Tigers lead and putting the Knights down 5-1.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Knights woke up offensively, but it was too little too late. Brandon Blount led the inning off with a walk, followed by a sharp single to center field. Zack Gooden followed by reaching on an error, as did Kalen Pcukett. Long scored on a passed ball and Gooden came home to score on a fielding error by the Tigers, but the damage from the long ball had been done, as the Knights suffered their first region loss of the season by a 5-3 score.

Kyle Kelly paced the Knights with a hit and RBI, while Levi Long added a hit and run scored. Logan Fowler and Matt Crews also tallied hits in the game, while Kalen Puckett and Zack Gooden scored runs for the Knights. Puckett also added a stolen base.

The Knights (3-1, 6-2) take on the Locust Grove Wildcats (3-0, 4-1) today in a huge Region 4 showcase at Silvertown Ballpark. First pitch for the game is slated at 5:55 p.m.