GARNER — The Garner baseball team, ranked No. 1 in The News & Observer poll, remained unbeaten in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference on Thursday night. But the Trojans did it the hard way.
Garner (11-2, 5-0) fell behind 5-0 after three innings. After tying the score at 5-5, the Trojans fell behind 7-5 and had to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings. Skylar Stricklands single through a drawn-in infield with one out in the 10th inning scored Brighton Hudson, lifting the Trojans to an 8-7 victory.
The Trojans had opportunities to win it in the seventh and eighth innings with runners on third with less than two outs, but could not get the go-ahead run home. In the seventh, the Trojans had the bases loaded with two runs in and no outs but could not come up with a third run in the inning.
Strickland didnt let his opportunity slip away in the 10th.
It was all adrenaline, Strickland said. It was a first-pitch fastball and I just got on it early. I just wanted to hit it somewhere. As long as it hit the ground thats all that mattered.
Garner coach Derik Goffena said the Trojans did not execute as well as they had been previously this season, but he was happy with the win.
We had been playing pretty well, Goffena said. Tonight we came out here and got down by four early. We just had to battle back. We got a couple of big hits and took advantage of a couple of mistakes. It certainly was not one of our better nights. But when you find a way to win, you take it.
Turning point: While Stricklands single was the game-winner, the biggest hit of the night for Garner was a two-out, bases-loaded triple by Trever Lee in the fourth inning that cut the Trojans deficit to 5-4. Lee scored on a wild pitch to tie it at 5-5.
Unsung heroes: For Garner relievers Ian Monahan and Jake Ellington, who combined to pitch the final eight innings and gave up just two runs. Ellington came in the fifth inning after Monahan had given up a leadoff single and finished the game to pick up the victory. Ellington, a senior right-hander, gave up five hits and just one run, striking out six.
The two relief pitchers did an awesome job, Goffena said. It all began with them.
Knightdale left fielder Jonathan Sierra was a standout at the plate and in the field. Sierra went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and made several running catches in left field that took away Garner base hits.
Hes done that all year, Knightdale coach Andrew Vaglio said. Thats just a routine day at the ball park for him.
Putting up numbers: Garner had just two multi-hit innings, but the Trojans made them count. In the five-run fourth inning when the Knights walked the bases loaded with two outs, Taylor Stephens drove in the first run with a single and Lee followed with his drive to center field. In the 10th, the Trojans had three hits to win it. Stephens was the lone Trojan with two hits.
Knightdale (3-6, 2-3) jumped on the Trojans in the first inning, getting three hits against Garner starter Anthony Galavotti. The big hit for the Knights was a long three-run homer to left field that made it 4-0.
Knights pitchers combined to walk 10 batters. The two runs in the seventh that tied it for the Trojans both scored on wild pitches.
The most interesting stat of the game, however, was that the first 11 runs of the game were scored with two outs.
What worked: For the Trojans, it was the bullpen. Monahan and Ellington combined to strike out 10 batters.
For Knightdale, it was back-side hitting. The Knights repeatedly dropped base hits into center and right field.
Were not going to pound the ball out of the park too many times, Vaglio said. Our approach is back side, back side. We can punch it pretty well.
What didnt work: Garner had trouble coming up with the key base hit after the five-run fourth until the 10th. In the seventh, the two runs were the result of walks and wild pitches.
For Knightdale, mental mistakes on offense were a problem. Offensively, we missed six signs and that kind of hurt Vaglio said. We pulled back on a bunt on a squeeze play and that could have been a run.
Best quote: The way we played, as far as execution, it was one of our poorer games, Goffena said. We are just thrilled to get out of here with a win.
Feeling the impact: For Garner, to stay ahead of the pack in the Greater Neuse River was important.
Every conference win is big for us, Goffena said. It is a tough league and we know there are a lot of good teams. Had we lost tonight, we are right back in the mix with a couple of teams. I feel like we are in a good spot. As long as we keep playing well, everything is kind of in our hands. To get a win like this early in the season is pretty big for us.