BOONVILLE - The difference in the way Starmount played from Game 1 to Game 2 in Friday’s day-night double-header was well, day and night.
The Rams bounced back from an 8-4 loss to West Wilkes in the day game to blank East Surry in the second game to split the double-header.
“It was a tale of two games,” head coach Mike McCann explained. “We just didn’t get a lot going offensively in the first game. Dillon [Bray] was struggling a little bit out there today; he wasn’t hitting his spots.
“In the second game, we just came out and did a good job,” he continued. “We played good defense, hit the ball well, threw strikes and made them put it in play and good things happened. Maybe we weren’t mentally focused like we should have been in the first game, but the good thing is they came back out here and answered and played a good second game.”
In Game 1, Bray struggled with control as the Blackhawks jumped out to a 7-2 advantage behind senior catcher Alex Minton.
The Rams made a late push to make things interesting, but starter Preston Millsaps thwarted the rally to preserve the 8-4 victory.
West jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning, powered by Minton, who smacked a two-run single to right to start things off.
Three batters later, Bray threw the ball away after fielding a soft roller to the mound to give the ‘Hawks a 4-0 cushion.
Slugger Tanner Mathis quickly responded in the bottom of the first, belting a two-run home run to straight-away center on the first pitch he saw to trim the lead in half at 4-2.
Bray bounced back with two solid innings until Minton provided his second big hit of the game - a three-run shot down the left-field line to break the game wide open at 7-2.
But the Rams clawed back, tacking on a run in the fifth on a RBI single by Eugene Billips and another in the sixth on a Samuel Stone sac fly to score Bray, but Starmount couldn’t overcome the early deficit, falling by four runs.
“Credit to Minton, he did a good job at the plate. They came out and hit the ball and jumped out on us by four runs,” McCann said. “We were able to score a couple of runs and claw our way back into it; but they answered - they’ve gotten a lot better since the last time we played them.
“There were some situations when we need a base hit, and we’d hit it right to somebody and they made play. We made a couple errors on the basepath and a couple errors in the field, and we can’t do that,” he added.
Bray picked up the loss on the afternoon - just his second of the season - and saw his ERA rise to 2.22.
Offensively, Mathis paced the Rams with two hits and two RBIs, while Billips picked up a pair of base hits.
Game 2 was a completely different story against a solid East Surry club, as McCann called it, “a tale of two games.”
Instead of playing from behind, the Rams put a five-spot up in the second inning to take a commanding early lead.
Chase Thompson got things started when he darted home on a pass ball from third to give Starmount its first run.
Brett Pinnix followed with a RBI single up the middle to push the lead out to 2-0.
After Billips doubled to the right-center gap, Dillion Dobson was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs.
Mathis then cranked a triple off the right-field fence - just missing a second homer on the afternoon - to clear the bases and extend the advantage out to five.
In the fifth, Bray responded from his shaky outing on the mound with a pinch-hit, two-RBI single back up the middle to score Dobson and Mathis to blow the game open at 7-0.
Mathis once again paced the Rams offensively in the second game, racking up two more hits and three RBIs and completed the cycle over the two contests.
While the Rams were tacking on runs at the plate, Pinnix was lights-out on the mound, shutting down a high-powered Cardinal offense.
Pinnix limited East Surry to just three hits in the night cap, powering his way to a 7-0 complete-game shutout victory - his first ‘W’ of the season.
“I’m real proud of Brett, he came in and did an outstanding job and only allowed three hits,” McCann explained. “He’s by no means a smoker, but he was hitting his spots and did a real good job - I’m proud of him.”
Defensively, the Rams flashed the leather against the Cards, making a handful of spectacular ‘Web Gems’ to keep the shutout in tact.
In the third, Billips tracked down a deep flyball in the right-center gap and fully extended to make a miraculous diving catch that prevented two runs from scoring.
In the fifth, Whitaker challenged Billips’ play when he laid out to snag a hard-hit liner to second for the third out of the inning.
Dobson then provided his own highlight reel plays on two grounders to short in the sixth.
On the first play, the senior ranged across second base and threw a laser on the run to beat out a Cardinal base runner. Two plays later, Dobson fielded a rocket up the middle that was knocked down by Pinnix on the mound and threw out another runner.
“It was fun to watch,” McCann said. “They were just making plays and being aggressive and going out there and making plays. Billips’ play - wow. And Dobson is just fun to watch. I’ve had him for four years, and I’m going to miss him when he’s gone. You can just watch him play and see why he’s going to the next level.”
The only thing missing from the field in Game 2 was the SportsCenter theme music as the Rams cruised to a 7-0 victory to earn a double-header split.
“I’m surprised we only limited them to three hits. That’s a good baseball team,” McCann added.
Starmount returns to action next week with four contests, including a Saturday game against non-conference rival Surry Central.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.