The potential that the new Garner Nationals American Legion Baseball program possessed to start the season has turned into actuality through the first third of the season. The Nationals wrapped up the first portion of their regular season Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over Wilson Post 13 and moved the squad, which features players from Garner and Johnston County to 7-0 on the season.
Garner has outscored its opponents 59-26 so far and the four-run decision it earned at historic Fleming Stadium Tuesday was its closest game so far this season.
“We’re hitting the ball better than I originally thought we would,” said Nationals manager Chris Cook. “We’ve worked three shutouts and given up one run in another game, so just like we thought, our pitching has been there consistently.”
Garner took control of Tuesday’s game with a three-run, two-out rally in the top of the third. Brett Daniels doubled in Tripp Atkinson to start the rally, then scored on Nick Stuart’s single. Lucas Scott added an RBI single to push the National lead to 3-1.
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With Daniels (4 IP, ER), Brighton Hudson (2 IP, W), Jordan Bissette (2 IP) and Chandler Jones (1 IP, SV) in control on the mound, that was all the offense the Nationals needed, although they did add a couple of insurance runs later in the game.
“Tonight, we just wanted to get our arms some work since we don’t play for a week,” Cook said.
Garner’s pitching arms have been spectacular with a 2.47 team earned-run average so far and 70 strikeouts against just 21 walks and 33 hits allowed. Josh Greene and Hudson are 2-0 on the season, while Lane Johnson, Bissette and Daniels have one win each.
But the hitting has been the big surprise. Nine players are hitting .285 or better on the season and four of those are over .400.
“It’s been a fun and relaxed season so far,” said Garner grad and Mount Olive recruit Brighton Hudson. “For a bunch of us, our school teams didn’t have the season we thought we would this spring. So we just looked at this as a chance to come out and have a good time playing baseball. We’ve played pretty stress free so far.”
Hudson, more known for his left arm baffling opposing hitters, is leading the team in batting with a .500 average (10-for-20).
“I’ve got a different role here (than I had at Garner High),” Hudson said. “We had trouble scoring runs so a lot of the time my job was to move Saylon (Kieft) over. Here, I’m hitting lower in the order so I’m seeing more fastballs to hit.”
Cook said the biggest question from a lineup perspective so far has been what to do when University of North Carolina recruit Brett Daniels is on the mound. Methodist University infielder Lucas Scott played at shortstop some Tuesday night, a position he hasn’t manned since at least middle school. West Johnston grad and Wingate University player Jack Sherrill started at shortstop Tuesday night but can also play the outfield. Daniels played both second and third base at Fuquay-Varina High and Cook ideally would like to keep him (and his .423 batting average) in the lineup when he’s not on the mound.
Sherrill is hitting .350 and Scott checks in with a .291 average.
Against Wilson, Daniels also singled home Sherrill in the fifth. Jordan Bissette added Garner’s fifth run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
The Nationals resume their slate Wednesday night with a visit to Rocky Mount Post 58, then visit Randolph County on June 13-14 for a two-game set.
“We just can’t get complacent because our pitching is very good,” Cook said. “We need to clean up some little things defensively and continue to hit the ball. And you’re going to have to consistently hit to consistently win in Legion ball too.”