Defending 4A baseball champ Middle Creek opens year strong in Tri-9

CorrespondentMarch 8, 2013 

— Despite a roster less than half full of returning players from last season’s NCHSAA 4A state championship team, Middle Creek knows that every time it walks onto the field in 2013, their opponent wants nothing more than to knock off the defending state champions.

Never mind that the Mustangs having nothing to defend (you can’t defend something you can’t lose). Logic aside, that’s simply the burden this year’s team must bear.

“Everyone’s going to give us their best, and we’re ready for it,” said pitcher Jake Benedict, while also adding: “I don’t think there’s any pressure. We’re a totally different team from last year.”

But if Friday’s 11-0, six-inning win to open the Tri-9 season at 2-0 is any indication, 2013 could be shaping up to be similar to 2012.

Benedict gave up two hits and walked one in earning the complete-game shutout that puts the Mustangs’ at 3-2 overall.They scratched out nine hits (just one for extra bases) and drew five walks.

Friday’s win was a demonstration in precisely what the Mustangs are aiming to do every night out, but just hadn’t yet put together.

“It is a process. You’re not going to come out on day one and be a great team,” said Mustangs coach Jeremy Thompson. “Every day – as little as we’ve practiced with all the weather – we’re getting just a little better. If we continue to do that, by the time we get to the end of the year, we’re going to be a lot better and have a chance to do great things like we did last year. Today was a great game to show the guys if you execute, do what you’ve been taught, the game’s going to work out, and you’ll make it easy on yourself.”

On Friday, Middle Creek got contributions all throughout their lineup.

In the second inning, Alex Williams slapped a single to right, a flawless hit-and-run that allowed Daniel Sanderford to race from first to third. Trevor Heasley’s RBI single and a pair of sacrifices later had the Mustangs up 3-0.

In the fourth inning, Sammy Chapman poked an opposite-field RBI single with runners on the corners to kickstart a rally that featured five hits and four runs to open up a 7-0 lead.

And in the sixth inning, after Cary failed to turn a double play on an infield grounder, Keenen Herring stepped to the plate and crushed a three-run home run to bring in the threat of the mercy rule.

But the Mustangs were just as efficient in the field.

Benedict got out of the first inning after throwing just eight pitches.

Williams kept Benedict’s no-hit bid alive at the end of the second inning with a diving catch-and-throw at second base, and first baseman Jordan Towler quickly retrieved and errant throw and tagged out Cary’s Gavin Russell, who’d overrun the bag, to start the third.

Perhaps the most telling thing about the night -- perhaps the season to come -- was there were areas where they could have been better.

“We had too many people in position to score, and we didn’t get them in,” said Herring, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and four RBIs. But Herring also noted that it’s early. “As coach Thompson always says, we see each other more than our families during the baseball season, so it will come.”

When Middle Creek returns to action next week, with games against Garner, Panther Creek and Green Hope, they know they’ll have to replicate what they did against Cary because all three of their opponents are looking to say they beat the 2012 state champions.

“Whether or not it’s fair, I don’t know,” Thompson said. “But the guys are starting to get used to playing with the pressure. And if you can get used to playing with pressure in March and April, then we when we get to May and June, we’re going to be good to go.”

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