There was no other word to describe Cleveland's baseball win over South Johnston Thursday night than special.
The Rams avoided a winless week with a 7-6 victory that halted a three-game losing streak and evened Cleveland's record at 2-2 in the Two Rivers 3A Conference. A loss would have left the Rams with a 1-3 mark and just six games left to play in the conference season.
"We've got a lot of respect for that team in that dugout, that program, a lot," said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee of South Johnston. "Not just me, but my kids. … I've got to give my kids credit, they fought like there won't no tomorrow."
Cleveland dropped games to Triton and Corinth Holders on Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively.
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"We had a bad practice last week and we lost three games after that," Lee said. "Yesterday's practice was a tough one, but it was a great for our team and they took it the right way."
With the score tired at 4 the sixth inning, Cleveland loaded the bases with one out on a single from Dylan Lee and Ryan Flores' walk. When they moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, it opened up first base for Keenan. The Trojans promptly gave him a free pass, setting up Avery Dean in the game's biggest spot.
Dean worked the count to 1-2 before Lee scored on a wild pitch. And after just missing an extra-base hit down the right field line that went foul, Dean looped a ball into the left field corner, scoring Flores and Tyler Keenan for a 7-4 lead.
"He's a good leader, he's played with us three years," Lee said. "He's made great plays for us and we expect that out of him. He's a captain. That was a good at bat, came through and drove it down the line.
"He's done a great job behind the plate for us as this year."
South Johnston, however, almost came up with an answer. The Trojans put two runners on with nobody out in the bottom of the inning, setting up an RBI single by Joseph Johnson. Will Barbour followed with a RBI single to right to get South within 7-6 with two outs.
But Moore, who came on to relieve Brennan Linfield in the fourth, was able to get the next batter to pop up to get out of the inning. Sawyer Roberts gave South some hope in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out single, but Moore got the next batter to ground out, ending the game.
"We've been pretty solid as a pitching staff, even though we had lost three straight coming in here," Lee said. "We haven't given up more than six runs in any game so far this season and our guys got the job done again tonight."
Both teams got solid efforts from pitching staffs that had been tested during the stretch of three games in four days. Moore got the win with four innings of relief for the Rams. He gave up two earned runs. Linfield gave up three earned runs in three innings.
South's trio of Barbour, Colby Jones and Drew Moore allowed six earned runs.
Both teams pitched out of jams effectively at times, stranding a total of 15 runners on base.
"You have to tip your hat to Cleveland," said South Johnston coach Keith Durham. "I thought both teams competed hard and all five pitchers that went out did a great job of pitching around the plate. It's a one-run high school baseball game and we were just one run short."
South also stands 2-2 in the conference, which Corinth Holders leads with a 4-0 mark.
"Our conference is very tough and balanced," Lee said. "Getting back to 2-2 in the conference helps us a lot."
Both South and Cleveland are a game behind Triton in the race for the top three.
"This is going to be a tight race," Durham said. "No team is going to be out of it any night you take the field."
Tyler Keenan opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the top of the first inning, giving Cleveland a quick lead. South came back with two runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Cody Allen's double to left field scored Nash Johnson and Brett Clifton.
In the third, the Rams took advantage of a South infield error on a ball hit by Tyler Stogner. Landry Moore and Keenan scored on the play for a 4-2 lead.
The Trojans came up with a two-spot of their own in the bottom half of the inning again. Zachary Bridges doubled to start the frame. Jack Raynor drove in the first run with a fielder's choice, then scored on a Cleveland infield error.
Moore had a big day at the plate for Cleveland as well, going 3-for-4. Lee was 2-for-4. Keenan, Dean and Stogner drove in two runs each for the Rams.
Cody Allen had two hits and three RBIs for the Trojans.