Garner’s baseball team picked a good time to get things going.
After losing a pair of nonconference games to start the season, the Trojans won Greater Neuse River 4A Conference games on consecutive nights – the second a 10-3 victory over rival Clayton on March 18.
“You never want to lose games early,” Garner coach Derik Goffena said. “When we went to West (Johnston, which the Trojans defeated 4-1 in eight innings), we just told them, ‘We had a worse record and they were sitting in a better spot at that point, but it’s all about getting conference wins.’
“We are fortunate to have played well the last two days. Those are two teams who could turn around and do the same thing to us the next time around.”
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Goffena said he had made some changes — moves that had to come after the season started — because of the lack of practice time that all area baseball and softball teams experienced because of inclement weather in February and early March.
“We’re coming together a little bit,” Goffena said. “We’ve moved some pieces around to try and get some people in some different situations and we are just having better at-bats. I certainly don’t think we are seven runs better than Clayton, but tonight we were able to put the ball in play and take advantage of some opportunities that were presented to us.”
Garner banged out 12 hits and led 9-0 after four innings against Clayton.
Junior Jack Elliott led the hit parade, going 4-for-4, driving in a pair of runs with a triple in the four-run fourth inning. Kameron Harris had a pair of hits and drove in the Trojans’ final run. Four other Trojans drove in runs.
“After the last week when we didn’t get a win, we beat West Johnston last night and kind of got back together as a team,” Elliott said. “Tonight we did it against Cole Hinnant, a good pitcher who is going to Francis Marion. I have known him a long time.
“I was able to time him up well on the fastballs and sit back and not get too antsy. … I think we are playing really good right now and can hopefully keep it going.”
One of the changes Goffena made was to pull up freshman shortstop Tyler Gillespy, who played well in the field against Clayton – making several nice plays to go with an error when he mishandled a groundball.
Senior left-hander Alan Robinson pitched well and picked up the win, shutting out the Comets (3-2, 2-1) for five innings. Robinson was relieved after Clayton loaded the bases with none out in the sixth on a double, a single and a walk. All three runs came home, but only one was earned.
“To this point in the season, our pitching has been the bright spot,” Goffena said. “Even when Cleveland run-ruled us, it was a lot of unearned runs. When Athens (Drive) beat us, it was four unearned runs. Last night Wyatt Godwin threw outstanding and tonight Alan (Robinson) threw good. We just want them to throw strikes.
“Even though we have made a lot of defensive mistakes, we just want them to throw strikes and try to give the defense a chance to bail us out.”
Clayton left five runners on base in the first two innings and had 11 left on for the game.
“We left some chances out there early,” Clayton coach Stacey Houser said. “We didn’t get the hit that could have maybe sparked us a little. (Garner) swung the bats well. You don’t see Cole get hit that hard that often. You’ve got to give them credit.
“We never executed with the bat tonight and we had four errors.”
Like the Trojans, Houser said the Comets are still working things out.
“I think we are all still trying to find our way,” Houser said. “We have played more games than we have had practices now. It makes it tough because you can’t get the little things covered that you normally would have done weeks ago. You have to talk them through it during game situations.
“I’m not disappointed. We competed. Our kids never quit. We can build off of that. This is not going to define us.”
It’s been a strange season to this point, with no teams in this area getting on the field for more than a couple of practices before starting games.
“The first three or four games of the season were kind of like scrimmages in the past,” Goffena said. “There were a lot of unknowns. Tonight, we did a delayed steal and we didn’t have a sign for it. A lack of practice time and a lack of game time have led to some problems for all teams.
“Hopefully, we can start working out the kinks and start figuring it out.”
For two nights to open the conference schedule, at least, the Trojans took two big steps toward doing just that.