North Johnston freshman baseball player Trey Whitley enjoyed a varsity debut any high school athlete would envy.
Panthers head coach Brian Ford promoted Whitley to the varsity for the Deacon Jones Invitational and used him for the first time in the championship game.
With two outs, runners on first and second and the scored tied 1-1, Whitley stepped into the batter’s box as a pinch-hitter.
He promptly stroked a single to center field to score Steven Worley from second with the game-winning run in a 2-1 victory Friday afternoon at Princeton’s field.
Never miss a local story.
“This is kind of cool,” said Whitley with youthful innocence before adding in an understatement, “I’ve never done it on the varsity. I thought I’d play some varsity sometime this season, but I didn’t know it would be this week.”
North Johnston improved to 8-3 overall with the tournament title, while Princeton dropped to 7-6.
“I had confidence in him,” Ford said. “That was huge. That says something about our program to have a young guy get a hit against a really good pitcher. We’ve got crop of good young players coming up.”
Both teams struck early for a 1-1 tie after the first inning before North Johnston’s Michael Stott and Princeton’s Tanner Flowers locked into a pitcher’s duel over the next six innings.
The Panthers scored in the top of the first on a one-out double in that left-handed hitter Rusty Renfrow sliced into the left-field corner. Stott, batting third, scored him with a single.
After the first, Flowers retired 15 of 18 batters until the seventh without allowing a hit and striking out six. He retired the first two batters in the seventh before Worley singled and advanced to second on a fielding error. That brought up Whitley with the game-winner.
Stott, who was named the tournament MVP, improved to 4-1 with his first complete game of the season. He walked Princeton’s Alex Hickman to start the bottom of the first. Nick Phillips advanced him to second on a single and Tyler Ricks singled to bring him home.
After that Stott one-hit the Bulldogs the rest of the way. He retired 18 of 21 batters, including a 1-2-3 seventh inning with two strikeouts.
“Tanner Flowers is a good pitcher; he battles the whole game,” Stott said. “I knew I had to just keep throwing strikes and keep my mechanics in check.”
Princeton coach Bruce Proctor emphasized to his team putting a tough loss behind them.
“That was good baseball,” he said. “That was a pitching duel after the first. The next game is the most important one for us, because it’s the next one.”
Both teams get back into their conference playoff races this week.
Gators win a close one as well
Spring Creek improved to 5-5 overall with a 2-1 win over Rosewood in the consolation game. Sawyer Smith tossed a complete game while spreading out six hits.
Spring Creek’s Levi Miller scored on a hit by Will Rouse and Alan Coor came home on a hit by Chad Spurgeion.
Deacon Jones Invitational
First Round Scores: North Johnston 6, Rosewood 5, Princeton 6, Spring Creek 2
Consolation Game: Spring Creek 2, Rosewood 1
Championship: North Johnston 2, Princeton 1
Most Valuable Player: Michael Stott, North Johnston
All-Tournament Team: Matt Dougherty (Princeton), Tanner Flowers (Princeton), Trey Hammonds (Spring Creek), Dallas Krob (North Johnston), Derek Neal (Rosewood), Nick Phillips (Princeton), Dylan Radford (North Johnston), Sawyer Smith (Spring Creek), Steven Worley (North Johnston)