Pinecrest give Jackets lessons to work on

Feb. 28, 2014 @ 08:40 PM

Lee County's baseball squad gained some experience the tough way during the first three nights of the season.

The good part about the three games in three nights is Yellow Jacket head coach Charlie Spivey equates them to spring training and, unlike in seasons past with Lee County in the Tri-Nine Conference, the Jackets, now in the 3A Cape Fear Valley, have some non-conference tune-ups to work with before the meat of their schedule.

After a loss to Western Harnett Wednesday, then a 4-3 walk-off loss at Cary Thursday, the Yellow Jackets fell behind early and suffered a 10-5 defeat to visiting Pinecrest (2-0) Friday night.

The Yellow Jackets had 12 pitchers see action in the first three games, six taking the hill versus the Patriots. That category's perhaps the main one, but not the only spot, where the Yellow Jackets are learning on the fly.

"I'm excited about where this team can go," Spivey said. "We have kids who are working hard. They're great to be around and they very coachable."

Simply having so many capable pitchers is an encouraging sign for how Lee County, which has only four seniors - Hampton Thomas, Nolan Groce, Pressley Hales and Patrick Bethea, can improve as the season plays out.

"Offensively, I think that's maybe where this team is a little ahead. We have a lot of kids who have a good approach (at the plate)," said Spivey.

The Yellow Jackets put lots of runners on base, getting 11 hits on the night. A couple baserunning mistakes, while perhaps good lessons to learn from, cost the Jackets chances to get back in the game.

The Patriots batted around and scored four times in the first inning. Lee County replied with a two-out rally in the home half of the first. Groce and Thomas, the third- and fourth-spot hitters, singled and walked. Bethea shot a liner into right-center for an RBI. Bo Wicker knocked a soft liner into right for another run.

After the Patriots tacked on three more in the second, Lee County put up two again.

Braxton Toro and Matt Hutchins singled, followed by a bunt by Tyler Thomas turning into a single, then leadoff man Spencer Faulk nailed a shot into center for a two-RBI single.

The rally, still with no outs, stalled there with a fly into center, then another fly into the right-center field gap which turned into a double play as a Jacket runner misread the play.

Faulk, the third Jacket pitcher of the night, pitched two scoreless frames, including working out of a one-out, runners on second and third jam in the fourth. Tyler Holder, in the sixth, and Austin Bullock, pitching the seventh, also kept the Patriots off the board.

Pinecrest scored three runs making it a 10-4 game in the fifth. In the Jacket fifth, Groce walked, moved around the paths with a balk and a wild pitch, and came in when Thomas doubled to the left-center field gap.

In the middle of the Patriot order, Seth Caddell and Dylan Wallace drove in three runs each. In the top two spots, Tristan Helms and Austin Embler scored two runs each.

Hunter Phillips, allowing a hit and no runs in the Jacket third and fourth innings, got the win on the mound.

Pinecrest opened its season Wednesday with a 6-1 win over Asheboro.

Thomas went 2 of 3 at the plate and Bethea went 2 of 4 for the Yellow Jackets.

Making the going tougher on the Jackets early on in the season, junior Alston Scott, an experienced pitcher and infielder, was cleated and injured in the Cary game and will miss about two weeks, Spivey said.

Instead of being down about it, being without a key player for a few games means chances for more Jackets to step up.

"This is really the first time having a number of non-conference games to start, and it's good for us, because this is a team that needs it," Spivey said.

The primary goal is to be ready to go on March 11 for a home date with Gray's Creek; Lee County's first CFVC baseball game.

A home-and-home series for the Jackets (0-3) and Patriots is set to conclude in Southern Pines at 5 p.m. Tuesday.