By Chris Goltermann
Baseball is a game of repetition. Anything that takes away from its daily routines can be detrimental to success.
Even a welcomed break after two months of a steady flow of games and practices.
It’s why East Coweta and Northgate might have been eager to get back on the field late this week, even if athletes may have been unhappy to cut spring break a day or two short.
Getting back into a routine might have been just as important for respective head coaches as a victory in what has become an annual spring break meeting between county programs.
With pitching dictating much as it did as the start of the 2019 season in February, East Coweta made the most of two runs in the fourth and held on for a 2-0 victory over the Vikings, who were coming off an explosive return to action less than 24 hours earlier in a 9-3 win over LaGrange.
“Baseball is such a rhythmic sport. We got back to practicing yesterday and playing today. Facing another good pitcher was good for us,” said Indians head coach Franklin DeLoach of a pitching duel that has junior Jacob Howell going head-to-head with Northgate senior Dalton Brooks. “Dalton threw it very well. It helped us get back in the rhythm.”
Offenses were limited to just four hits apiece and just one for extra bases between lineups. East Coweta made the most of an RBI triple by junior Logan Frady, who after driving in Caleb Cashion following a leadoff walk and a sacrifice bunt from Jordan Kenty, also scored when Indians senior Brayden Carey lifted a sacrifice fly to right.
Otherwise, both Brooks and Howell maintained their poise, each going through at least five innings.
Howell continued a scoreless streak of 31 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run dating back to his season debut on Feb. 13. He struck out seven, going the distance while now having pitched 12 scoreless innings between last week’s rain-shortened start at Newnan and Friday’s victory over Northgate.
“We’ve got to let this go real quick,” Northgate head coach Todd Herrington, who scheduled three games over consecutive days knowing three home-and-home Region 5-6A series remain on the schedule including a showdown with first-place Alexander. “We’ve got to go back to work on some basics. We’re hitting too many popups. Yesterday we did pretty well [against LaGrange]. Give credit to their pitcher. He did well.”
The Vikings (16-5), who will host Harris County on Saturday at 1 p.m., after splitting their first two games at the tail end of spring break, still managed to put leadoff runners on base four times, including a pair on singles from senior Sam Jennings.
In each instance, however, East Coweta (15-6) got out of trouble. The Indians turned a double-play in the seventh between middle infielders Tony Player and Caleb Cashion to help keep the shutout.
Northgate’s best contact against Howell came when Donovan Cash cleared the left-field fence just foul to lead off the third. After Cash settled for a walk, Howell retired his next three batters in order, the latter pair on strikes.
Jennings and senior Robert Smith split the Vikings’ four hits, while Frady went 2-for-2 with a walk to lead the Indians.
East Coweta resumes Region 2-7A play with a doubleheader at home on Monday against Pebblebrook on Senior Night. Outside of multiple losses over its next four region dates, East Coweta will face Newnan on April 18 at Joe Pope Field for the region championship.
“You want to be playing well at the end,” DeLoach said.
Pitching has remained a strength for both teams. The Indians lowered their staff ERA to 1.33, with a foursome of Howell, Frady, J.J. Freed and Austin Bunn now posting at least five wins apiece.
In 36 innings, Howell now has a microscopic 0.19 ERA to go with a 3-1 record with two saves, adding a helping hand in starts with Bunn limited to three innings since March 12.
Brooks, meanwhile, remains undefeated against Region 5-6A opponents heading into the final six games of the schedule starting Monday against New Manchester. He struck out six over five innings against East Coweta before giving way to Tommy Ivan, who made his varsity debut after excelling for Northgate’s JV.
“He was going to pitch today no matter what, “ Herrington said of Ivan, who struck out a pair during a scoreless sixth. “We were going to get him in there to see what he could do.”
The Vikings host Alexander on Friday with both teams heading back into region play tied for first with identical 9-1 records. South Paulding, which split its series with both frontrunners, sits one game behind at 10-2.
Northgate also has two games left against Douglas County (6-4), which sits in fourth place.
The Vikings pounded out 12 hits in their win over LaGrange, quickly responding from a 1-0 deficit with nine unanswered runs.
Northgate got hits from nine different players including a pair from Brooks, Elliott Vickery and Andrew Baldwin.
Reid Fagerstrom allowed one run over three innings to pick up the win as four Vikings pitchers held LaGrange to five hits.
TRINITY CHRISTIAN CLOSES THREE GAMES AT NORCROSS TOURNAMENT
Trinity Christian took on host Norcross, Fellowship Christian and Northview over consecutive days in tournament play in Gwinnett County, dropping three games including Friday’s tough 12-8 loss to Northview.
Shep Hancock went 3-for-3 with a double, homer and 3 RBIs in a game where Trinity and Northview combined for 22 walks. Senior leadoff hitter Maury Weaver went 2-for-4 with a walk.
The Lions were coming off a 13-3 loss to Fellowship Christian (16-5) in five innings on Thursday.
Trinity (12-8) opened tournament play on Wednesday with a tough 8-6 loss to host Norcross (13-9) in a six-inning game where the Blue Devils rallied for three go-ahead runs in their final at bat.