Cleveland left-hander Brandon Fox was missing a contact lens Monday night, but he could see well enough to find the strike zone.
Fox allowed just one run in 3 2/3 innings of relief, striking out five and walking two, as the Rams rallied for a 13-8 victory over Smithfield-Selma in the Two Rivers 3A Conference opener for both teams.
Fox, a senior, was making just his second appearance of the season. He was bothered by a sore shoulder early in the season and faced just two batters last week in his first appearance when he lost a contact lens. He still had not gotten a new contact, but he did the job for the Rams (3-4) against the Spartans (3-4).
“He was the difference in the ball game,” Cleveland coach Jamie Lee said. “He came in and threw strikes. … He just bulldogged it. He stood up and got the job done.”
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Fox entered the game in the fourth inning with runners on second and third and two outs and gave up a two-run double down the right-field line to Chris Parker that gave the Spartans a 7-6 lead.
Cleveland put three runs on the board in the top of the fifth to go up 9-7 and Fox made the lead stand up.
In the bottom of the fifth, he pitched out of a jam. After walking two batters and wild pitching them to second and third with two outs, he struck out Francil Ramirez to end the threat.
“I could see well enough,” Fox said. “My curveball was working. The team helped me a whole lot. They made some plays behind me. This was a great start to the season for me. It was a good win for the team.”
Cleveland benefitted from wildness by Smithfield-Selma’s pitchers, who walked 11 batters and hit another one. The Spartans also committed three errors.
“There are three phases to the game,” Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhon said. “You’ve got to pitch well, you have got to hit well, you have got to play defense. We brought one phase, we swung the bats.
“You put eight runs on the board, you are supposed to win. We walked (11) batters, hit one, had a catcher’s interference and made two or three errors. We put 17 or 18 people on base.”
The third and seventh innings for Cleveland were examples of what kind of night it was for the Spartans.
In the third inning, Cleveland’s Chris Bjorling singled with one out and Nolan Bailey was awarded first base on catcher’s interference when his bat hit the catcher’s mitt on a swing. A wild pitch moved the runners up a base and both Rams came home on an infield error.
In the seventh, Cleveland scored four insurance runs without getting a hit to expand its 9-8 lead to 13-8.
Reliever Brandon Bales got the leadoff batter out but walked the next three Rams batters and hit Avery Dean with a pitch to force in a run. Then the Rams added three more runs with Alan Stephenson at the plate and the squeeze play on.
The first pitch to Stephenson was in the dirt and got past the Smithfield-Selma catcher, scoring one run. On the next pitch, Stephenson dropped a nice bunt toward third base and the throw was wide of first– allowing two more runs to score.
Bjorling went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored for Cleveland. Dean drove in three runs without getting a hit – on a sacrifice fly, an RBI groundout and one in the seventh when he was hit by the pitch. Leadoff batter Chase Jackson had an RBI single and walked three times and scored three runs for the Rams.
“Conference victories are precious,” Lee said. “We are starting to come around. We played some good (nonconference) competition and I think it made us tougher as a team.”
Smithfield-Selma outhit Cleveland 12-7. Ramirez and Parker finished with three hits each for the Spartans and Henry Moore had a pair of hits.
Parker, who relieved Chris Simonson in the second inning, took the loss to drop to 2-1. He pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs. Chris Simonson walked four batters and gave up four runs in 1 1/3 innings.
“We have got to have some guys step up,” Lawhon said. “We have got some live arms on the team, but we have to have some pitchers step up and make some pitches when they have to. I think we’ll be OK.
“We just didn’t have it tonight.”