This year’s version of the Smithfield-Selma baseball team is not the sort to roll over and throw in the towel when facing a sizable deficit so down six runs late in its Two Rivers 3A Conference opener at Cleveland, the Spartans put on their rally caps.
Smithfield-Selma rallied for four runs and managed to get the potential game-tying run on safely at first base with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. However, Henry Moore’s deep blast to left field was caught just a few steps in front of the fence to end the rally and give the Rams the 6-4 win.
“We got the big lead and we kind of got complacent,” Cleveland coach Jamie Lee said. “I mean it’s a conference game and a win’s a win but we’ve got to play better in the end; we’ve got to finish the game.”
Three walks and a Spartan error in the second inning allowed Cleveland (6-1) to put up five runs and the Rams would add another run in the third on a Dylan Lee RBI single that scored Tyler Stogner for the 6-0 lead.
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Cleveland starting pitcher Caleb Howard held Smithfield-Selma scoreless for the first five innings before a leadoff walk allowed to the Spartans’ speedy Francil Ramirez in the sixth led to the visitors’ first run of the game.
Once on base, Ramirez bagged his ninth stolen base of the season to reach second, advanced to third on a fly ball out to right field and later scored on a wild pitch.
Even with just the one run, the momentum had shifted.
“These guys understand that six runs is not good enough to beat us,” Smithfield-Selma coach Michael Sliger said. “They’re starting to believe in themselves and know that we can go up and put up a nine-spot or put up a six-spot. It’s really just the confidence they have and it’s not really me saying anything.”
Cody Simonson led off the seventh for the Spartans and reached base on an error. Simonson advanced all the way to third thanks to a wild pitch and a fielder-s choice. Austin Blackmon then drove Simonson in a sacrifice fly.
Charlie Horne extended the rally by earning a walk, which was followed by three consecutive base hits from Corey Branch, Ramirez, and Cole Pearson with the singles from Ramirez and Pearson scoring runs to draw to within 6-4.
“They’ve got to do something to get on, put it in play and we’re just beating that into their heads and it really didn’t take place until the seventh inning,” Sliger said. “Of course when you get the first guy on and that guy scores, you start rallying and that’s going to come together.”
On a 2-0 count, Moore’s shot looked like it could potentially give the Spartans the lead but Parker Lewter easily corralled the long out to hold on for the win.
In the five-run second inning, Cleveland’s Ryan Flores came through with a big two-run single up the middle and Tyler Keenan stayed hot with a run-scoring hit up the middle as well. The other two runs came directly from a bases loaded walk and an error.
Howard earned the win for the Rams going six innings allowing just the one run on five hits.
Jalyn Lee came on in relief for the Spartans and was a rock as he shut down the Cleveland bats, allowing no runs and just one hit in four innings of work.
“A lot of times when you score runs early like that and you jump out to a big lead, you hit the cruise control button,” said Lee. “Give them credit because I knew they’d battle. They fight you tooth and nail and it almost paid off for them tonight.”