Cole Hinnant didn’t change his approach Friday night or his thought process, even knowing he was toeing the rubber against Garner standout left-hander Brighton Hudson.
Sure, a low-scoring win was the likely outcome included in a winning scenario for the Comets, but the Clayton right-hander didn’t consider any ‘what ifs’. His approach worked.
Clayton won its fifth straight with a 3-2 decision over the Trojans, which had never lost with Hudson starting on the mound.
“You don’t think about that,” Hinnant said. “I just try to do what I can because I know my team’s got my back.”
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The two hurlers combined to strike out 25 batters on the night. Add in Clayton closer Brandon Boykin’s two strikeouts in the seventh and 27 of the 39 outs recorded on the night came on strikeouts.
“Our kids competed hard and that’s what I’m most proud of,” said Clayton coach Stacey Houser. “We didn’t have a lot of offense but we stuck to it and the guys got the job done.”
The Comets, who pounded Knightdale 18-4 on Thursday night, moved to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference with the back-to-back wins.
With the game tied at 2 in the fifth, Hinnant and Brett Clark singled to start the inning, putting Hinnant at third with nobody out. Blake Joyner launched a deep sacrifice fly to left to bring Hinnant home for a 3-2 lead.
Hinnant and Clark were both 3-for-3 on the night, collecting six of the Comets’ seven hits.
“We took some big swings early, but you lose that battle if you’re trying to swing as hard as a hard thrower is throwing,” Houser said. “I think what happened is our guys saw the approach guys like Cole and Brett were having, keeping (the swing) short and hitting to the backside and they learned from that.”
Garner (4-3, 0-1) had its chance to pull back even or more in the next half-inning putting runners at second and third with one out but Hinnant got a ground ball out and a strike out to end the threat.
“We had chances to score and Cole, he got the job done against us,” said Garner coach Derik Goffena. “Hudson threw his butt off and we let him down out there. Three hits is not going to be enough to win, even with a guy like Brighton on the mound.”
Hudson struck out 14, issued two walks and gave up two earned runs.
Hinnant had 11 strikeouts and two walks on the night and credited a particularly late break on his curveball for much of his success. He gave way to Brandon Boykin in the seventh who worked a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the victory.
“It’s great to have that guy you can turn to in the seventh and get you outs,” Houser said.
Garner went ahead 1-0 in the first, taking advantage of a Clayton error on a bunt with Saylon Keift scoring after he started the game with a flared double to short center field.
Clayton pulled even in the third when Hinnant and Brett Clark had back-to-back single setting up Hinnant’s run scored on a passed ball.
Creech singled in a run in the fourth to put Clayton up 2-1.
Garner (4-3, 0-1) came back in the fifth with the game-tying run as Nick Gallogy reached on a dropped third strike and later scored on a Hudson single down the left field line.