The Smithfield-Selma baseball team began a new chapter Wednesday night when the Spartans paid county rival North Johnston a visit to open up both team’s seasons.
Fueled by a six-run first inning, Smithfield-Selma got off to a quick start in Mike Sliger’s first game as Spartans coach and defeated the Panthers, 9-4.
Smithfield-Selma was seeing double for much of the night as the team collected six doubles including three consecutive two-baggers in the first inning to help the Spartans take control from the onset.
After two early errors led to Smithfield-Selma’s first run, Cody Simonson’s RBI single was followed by three run-scoring doubles from Henry Moore, Austin Blackmon and Patrick Costanzo.
Francil Ramirez scored on a groundout in the second inning, but it wasn’t until two insurance runs were plated in the top of the sixth inning that the Spartans were able to rest easy as North Johnston clawed to within 7-3 in the bottom of the fifth.
“We started and our bats were hot,” Sliger said. “As you saw as the game went on, we kind of died down and you can’t do that. No matter who you’re playing, if you die down, they can come back.”
Senior starting pitcher Michael Stott and a pair of sophomore relievers – Holden Hales and Dylan Radford – helped keep the Panthers in the ball game as the trio continuously pounded the strike zone to the tune of nine combined strikeouts to just two walks.
Radford got North Johnston on the board in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly that scored Stott. Rusty Renfrow plated Kellen Johnson in the same fashion in the bottom of the fifth and Dallas Krob scored on a wile pitch to get the Panthers within four runs.
“I was pleased with the way we bounced back after the first inning,” North Johnston coach Brian Ford said. “We’re going to get better. This team is going to work hard.”
A fielding error in the top of the sixth allowed the Spartans’ Cole Pearson to score and prolonged the inning just long enough for Moore to drive in Simonson with a base hit to right field, giving Smithfield-Selma all the insurance they would need.
In all, the Panthers committed seven errors for the game.
“They ran some hits together but, you know, we gave them some runs,” said Ford. “We can’t give a team like that runs because they’re going to take advantage of it.”
The Spartans’ Dylan Brown earned the win, going five innings and allowing three runs on just two hits. Freshman Jalyn Lee came on in relief and struck out four in two innings of work and gave up just a RBI single to Krob.
Moore had a great night at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Charlie Horne and Pearson picked up the remaining doubles for Smithfield-Selma while Ramirez was able to leg out an infield single to collect the Spartans’ other hit.
Sliger, who arrived to the school in November, has been impressed with the work ethic his squad has shown up to this point and feels that bodes well for the rest of the year.
“These kids have really bought into the program and what we’re trying to do,” said Sliger. “These kids are buying into the system and they want to play.
“To my eyes, these kids want to win and that’s what it takes; you’ve got to want to win.”