With a 13-1 start two seasons ago and an eleven-game unbeaten streak to begin last year’s campaign, the Garner legion baseball team, affiliated with Post 232 as it was two years ago or the independent version it is now, is used to fast starts.
On a quest to win the Area I championship for the third year in a row, a new crop of Garner Nationals have found the going rough to start this season. However, the club showed signs of life and promise for another post-season run in dispatching of Cary Post 67 8-1 Wednesday night at Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium.
The win was the Nationals’ second in a row as they completed a tough four-games-in-four-days stretch in convincing fashion after dropping a pair of games to current Area I West leader Raleigh Post 1.
“I’m not one who makes excuses but we’ve played a tough schedule,” Garner coach Chris Cook said of his team’s 6-6 start to the season. “Sixteen of our eighteen (players) are eligible to come back so they’re young but they’re coming together.
“I think we’re going to be alright.”
A night after dismantling Apex Post 124 16-6, Cole Hinnant paved the way for Garner as he scattered five hits over five innings as Cary found limited success attacking the Francis Marion bound Clayton High School grad early in the count only to waste scoring opportunities.
Other than a Jimmy Russo RBI single in the top of the second inning that plated Cam McNabb, the visitors were unable to come through with runners in scoring position.
“I think that was the biggest difference,” Cary coach Bob Cadran said. “We left five on base in scoring position and they didn’t. That hurts when you get guys on second and third and you’re not getting your runs in because somebody’s not putting the ball in play.”
Seven of the Nationals’ eight runs were unearned although Garner did produce 10 hits and keep the pressure on Post 67 in swiping seven bases over the course of the game, which was cut short after seven innings due to lightning.
Zeke Barefoot reached on an error in the bottom of the first, stole second base, advanced to third on a Kyle Hawley infield single and scored on another throwing error.
Matt Duckworth drove in Hawley, who also stole second base, on a RBI single to put the Nationals up 2-0 after the first inning.
Barefoot and Duckworth added to the lead in the third with a pair of run-scoring singles each before another Cary error made the score 5-1.
“I thought we played well other than the errors,” said Cadran. “That’s been the way we’ve played all year. Our pitching has been great and we’ve hit the ball but we seem to get ourselves in a hole because of our defense.
“It’s just that we’ve got to somehow alleviate these errors before we get into the playoffs.”
Cary starting pitcher Louis Card went four innings, allowing five runs on six hits.
Russo went 2-for-3 for the game while Jeff Cadran, Jacob Eller, Keith Markovich and McNabb each recorded a hit on the night for Post 67 (1-6 overall, 1-2 Area I West).
Hinnant picked up the win, his second of the summer, and struck out five while walking just one. He also reached base safely three times, including a pair of base hits.
Robbie Frongello closed out the contest with two solid innings in relief in which he allowed just a double to Russo.
Duckworth went 3-for-4 on the night and Trevor Heasley collected a pair of base hits for the Nationals (6-6, 2-2).
Cook credits some adjustments the team made at the plate after dropping the first two games of the four-game set to Raleigh Post 1 as being key for exploding for 24 runs in the final two games of the set.
In terms of where Garner finishes the regular season in the Area I West Conference, Cook says it’s not important as long as the team is playing its best ball.
The Area I West division playoffs are unique in some circles. All four teams — division-leading Raleigh Post 1, Garner, Cary and Apex Post 124 — will make the playoffs. The regular season only determines seeding for the two-round, best-of-five-game series that will crown the Area 1 West champ.
“We’ve never won the regular season,” Cook recalled. “You can put us at two, three or four—it doesn’t matter. When it’s all said and done, you play a best of five and I think we’ll be alright.”