HOLLY SPRINGS — On a 52-degree evening that only baseball fans who’ve attended a game at San Francisco’s old Candlestick Park could appreciate, Holly Springs’ R.J. Arthur heated up the Golden Hawks’ field with a hot bat.
The senior right fielder banged out three extra-base hits, but none was bigger and deeper than a shot beyond the 370-foot sign in straightaway centerfield for a solo home run in the Hawks’ 12-5 win over Panther Creek in a Southwest Wake Athletics Conference game.
“I’ve been here eight years, and I haven’t seen more than four or five balls hit here out of center field,” Holly Springs coach Rod Whitesell said. “To hit it out of center field here, you have to crush it.”
The ball soared high into the cold, dead air as bundled up fans craned their necks out of their winter coats, but only Panther Creek center field Ross Moreau seemed to pick up the path as he turned an sprinted to the fence. There was no chance for an acrobatic catch, though, as the ball nestled into the trees.
“I just got the right pitch – a curveball,” said Arthur, who said he once hit a home run over the centerfield fence in practice. “That’s the longest ball I’ve ever hit in a game. I was surprised.”
Holly Springs (7-3, 2-3) began the week as the N&O’s No. 1-ranked team before the Hawks lost on Monday to Green Hope. But the 2011 4A state champions have bounced back with a non-conference win or Broughton on Wednesday and the victory a day later over Panther Creek (6-3, 3-2).
Arthur’s blast gave Holly Springs a 5-4 lead in bottom of the third inning after the Hawks had coughed up a three-run lead. Panther Creek scored three runs with two outs in the top of the third with the help of an error to tie the score at 4-4.
“That home run seemed to spark us,” said winning pitcher Andy Wantz, who tossed four innings. “It got us going again.”
Arthur’s home run came with one out, but the Hawks pushed across four more runs in the inning with the help of two walks and an error for a 9-4 lead.
Arthur was 3-of-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder’s other hits were a double and a triple before he flew out to center field in the fifth inning.
Holly Springs leadoff man Mike Sconzo was 4-of-4 with a double and three singles and two runs scored. Left fielder Phil Simpson was 3-of-4 with three singles, two runs scored and one RBI.
Panther Creek third baseman Trevor Howard was 3-of-3 with two RBIs. But the Catamounts contributed to the hole they dug with three errors and three walks.
“Typically, we pitch better and play better defense than that,” said Panther Creek coach Dan Hall. “But Holly Springs had a lot to do with that. They hit the ball hard.”