Had it been a soccer match, Wednesday’s backyard diamond meeting between the G-Town Yard Dogs and Garner Baseball Inc. would have been referred to as a ‘friendly’ — in more ways than one.
For a single night, long-time pals became on-field foes in the historic exhibtion showdown, which was claimed 2-0 by the Yard Dogs at the North Garner Middle School Field.
G-Town, which serves as the varsity entrant for players from Garner High School in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League, took a break from its conference slate to tangle with a GBI club that is preparing for this coming weekend’s appearance at the Babe Ruth 16-18 Eastern State Tournament in Kinston.
“It was a good experience for both teams,’’ said GBI coach Lodie Smith. “For us, it helps us get ready for the states by playing some good competition. And we played pretty well, so I think it gives us some confidence.
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“They have been trying to get together the last few years to play this game, but things just haven’t worked out. I’m glad we played it.’’
GBI began the season with 20 players, but numbers have dwindled as games have been called off due to poor weather — and other potential outings were cancelled. Cary is the only other Wake County town that competes in 16-18 Babe Ruth, so GBI has taken on that club four times, winning once.
“It’s been a tough summer with our schedule,’’ Smith said. “So I’m really happy we were able to get this one in.’’
GBI had only eight roster members show up for Wednesday’s game. Well, nine if you count Noah Carawan, the lone performer who plays for both GBI and the Yard Dogs. Carawan, a rising junior at Garner, had decided in advance that he was going to suit up for G-Town, though he expects to rejoin GBI for the state tourney.
So with Carawan in the other dugout, and GBI needing one more player, Joseph Carawan — Noah’s younger brother — was summoned from the stands to compete, albeit in gym shorts and sneakers.
Joseph even made a few nice plays at third base while receiving some good-natured ribbing every time he came to the plate.
“Noah, I mean Joseph!’’ fans and players from both sides shouted as Joseph smiled while twirling his bat in the box.
“It was kind of strange, but it was fun,’’ Noah Carawan said. “I pretty much knew everybody who was playing. I just had to make a choice. We have a lot of strong players (on the Yard Dogs), so I didn’t know how much playing time I would get. So I joined (GBI) to be able to play some for them, too. It was good (Wednesday) because we are all friends.’’
G-Town, which boasts a solid core of five varsity Garner players from this past season, scratched across single runs in the top of the first and seventh innings -- but almost saw its party spoiled by one of the game’s few outsiders.
John Blue, a former standout at East Chapel Hill High School who now competes for the East Carolina University Club Team as a rising sophomore, limited the Yard Dogs to just five hits as part of his complete-game pitching effort. Garner’s markers came courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Wellington Guzman in the first and a single and ensuing throwing error that plated Graham Wilkins in the seventh.
“When you get to be my age, you start running out of places to play,’’ Blue said. “I’m living in Raleigh right now and heard about this team. I want to keep playing the sport I love any way I can. Baseball is the greatest game there is. Being out here is just a lot of fun. I thought I might be able to sign somewhere coming out of high school, but that didn’t come about. I still love being out there, though.’’
Blue was so sharp on Wednesday that he was even congratulated by the home-plate umpire after the game for his effective performance.
Blue is one of only two GBI players with varsity prep baseball experience. But that didn’t keep GBI, with five starters already graduated from high school, from being competitive against the younger Yard Dogs, who saw Jonathan Davis and Eric Rodriguez team up for the mound shutout, thanks in part to G-Town’s sturdy defense.
In the bottom of the fifth, GBI seemed on the verge of tying the score when Justin Taylor walked with one out, and Atticus Flowers followed with a double off the fence in left-center field.
But a strong relay throw home edged Taylor to the plate, and GBI was kept off the scoreboard. The potential tying run was wiped out once again in the bottom of the sixth after a nifty 6-4-3 double play that began with a slick stab from the touted Guzman at shortstop.
“Our main purpose with the summer team is developing players,’’ said G-Town assistant Jordan Young, who served as the head coach Wednesday in the absence of regular skipper Larry Beck. “We have guys who are also doing showcase and travel stuff, so we don’t really know what our lineup is going to be from game to game. We try to put kids in new positions and get them reps. We are a very young team, so we are using this as an opportunity to watch these kids mature. We have some guys who are already on the varsity (at Garner), and others who will be making the jump up from the JV team next year’’
Wednesday’s outing also served as the only in-town event the Yard Dogs will play this summer as the Garner High School campus is being renovated, and the baseball field is unavailable.
Though G-Town was the visitor in the scorebook, Young considered it a home game in many respects.
“Most of the guys on our team grew up through the GBI program, and this was their home field,’’ Young said. “Some of them probably never thought they would be able to come back here and play again after they aged out, and here they are. This was special for them. As for myself, I’ve played on this field more times than you can imagine. And since this used to be the old high school field back in the day, there is a lot of history here. It is always good to come back.’’
The Yard Dogs will be back on the road for five more CCSSL games to wrap up their summer schedule over the next two weeks. G-Town is currently 3-4 overall against league opponents.