Long’s clutch double lifts UL to comeback victory

Wes McCard

March 29, 2014

With a disappointing 2-1 loss at Dutchtown last week, the Knights dropped below .500 for the first time this season with a 7-8 record. However, head coach Wayne Puckett and his Knights atoned for their loss on Tuesday by shocking the Spalding Jaguars with a 6-5 comeback victory.

The Jags entered the contest with an 8-3 record and a 7-1 record in Region 4 play, their only loss coming to Griffin by a 4-0 score. After falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, the Knights dug deep, worked some pitch counts, and came through with big hits for the 6-5 victory, no hit bigger than Levi Long’s two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game up at 5-5.

“We’ve been in a rough stretch of games here lately,” said Puckett. “We fell behind early in the first inning and the guys could have folded up tent, but they stayed in the game, gave themselves a chance, and came through with some clutch hits. I felt like we have been pitching pretty well and our defense has been decent, but we have struggled mightily at the plate. Tonight we stayed back, took the ball the other way, and trusted our hands. Levi had the perfect approach at the plate tonight. He has had the right approach pretty much all year, but hasn’t had the best of luck with some balls hit right at guys. Tonight he really came through for us with two big hits, and I’m really proud of him and proud of this team for their ability to keep themselves in the game.”

Senior Dalton Strom toed the rubber to start the game for the Knights, and after recording the first out of the game via strikeout, he then gave up three hits and two runs, including a triple. However, trailing 2-0 after the top of the first inning, Kalen Puckett led the bottom of the inning off with a booming triple to right field. Matt Crews then lined a double down the left field line, and the Knights had cut the Jag’s lead to 2-1.

Strom was able to get out of a two-on and one out jam in the top of the second, but in the top of the third inning he struggled to find his control. After a meeting on the mound with Puckett, Strom decided he didn’t have his stuff on this day and the Knights turned to Kyle Kelly.

“I respect what Dalton did out there tonight,” said Puckett. “A lot of players would have stayed in the game to protect their ego, but he was honest with me and told me he felt like he didn’t have what he needed on his pitches to help us, and that’s a team player, putting his team before himself.”

Kelly inherited a base loaded with no outs situation, and was able to get out of the inning allowing only one run. Kelly gave up a ground ball to score a run and then struck out two batters. The junior struck out five batters in the game in only four innings pitched.

In the top of the fourth the Jaguars added another run to the board. Freshman Kalen Puckett committed a throwing error allowing a Spalding runner to reach second base. The very next Jag’s batter drilled a double in the gap, scoring the unearned run and giving Spalding a 4-1 lead.

In the top of the fifth inning, the Knights looked poised for a big inning after Elijah Hill led off the inning with a solid single, but on the very next pitch, Hill was picked off at first base. To make matters worse, Levi Long laced a triple down the right field line, a hit which would have scored Hill from first base. Ben Spillers eased the Knights pain somewhat, with a ground ball out to score Long, and cut the Spalding lead to 4-2.

In the top of the sixth inning, it was two more infield errors which cost the Knights a run. Senior Matt Crews had trouble getting the ball out of his glove on a ground ball, and then Spalding hit a high pop fly in the infield which was called late by second baseman Zack Gooden. However, the freshman had the ball hit off of his glove and all runners were safe. Kelly was then able to get two outs without any trouble, but a soft single to right field scored another unearned run and the Knights trailed 5-2 after six innings.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Knights mounted their comeback. Crews led off with a walk, followed by a solid single to left field by Zack Gooden. Chris Duncan then drew a walk with an eight pitch at bat, followed by a bases loaded walk from Brandon Blount, cutting the Jag’s lead to 5-3. With the bases loaded, Long drilled the ball over the right fielder’s head for a two-run double, tying the game at 5-5. The Knights took the lead one pitch later on a wild pitch, as Brandon Blount scored to give the Knights the 6-5 lead.

Kalen Puckett came in to retire the side in order and earn the save, as the Knights improved their record to 8-8 and 5-5 in the region.

Levi Long led the Knights with two hits (a double and triple), two RBI, and a run scored. Kalen Puckett also added two hits and a run scored, while Matt Crews finished with a hit, RBI, and a run scored. Elijah Hill and Zack Gooden each added a hit and a run scored, while Brandon Blount scored a run and had a RBI. Ben Spillers also had a RBI in the game with a ground ball out.

The Knights took on Woodland on Thursday, but the results of that game were not available by press time. Look in Tuesday’s paper for a full game recap.