A five-run first-inning deficit proved to be little trouble for the Sanderson baseball team.
The Spartans scored runs in each of their first four innings, including an eight-spot in the third inning, en route to a 12-6 victory over visiting East Chapel Hill in a N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A first-round game Wednesday at Optimist Park.
Alim McNeill had three hits, scoring two runs and driving in one as No. 6 seed Sanderson advances to play No. 11 Apex in a second-round game.
“They’ve been a group that’s fought all year,” Sanderson coach Todd Laughlin said. “They understood that at least it happened in the first inning and not the sixth inning. That’s a big difference, so we were prepared to nick away at it and we then got a shot at a big inning and put up a bunch of runs with two outs.
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“They did a good job of not letting up and staying with the game plan.”
Sanderson (17-7) trailed 6-3 before striking for its eight runs in the third inning, all with two outs, to go ahead for good.
With one out in the frame, McNeill doubled to deep center and Robbie Houston followed with a single to left to put runners on first and third. After Ryan Baldy struck out, McNeill and Houston executed a double steal, McNeill scoring to bring Sanderson within 6-4.
Drew McDonald then reached on a fielding error, putting runners on first and third, before Jared Tinstman ripped an RBI single up the middle to plate Houston to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 6-5. Tommy Clerkin drew a walk to load the bases, and Cory Wood put Sanderson ahead when he belted an RBI single to right that scored both McDonald and Tinstman, the later scoring when East Chapel Hill’s right fielder booted the ball as the Spartans grabbed a 7-6 lead.
Noah Almond, Ray Stocum and McNeill all later added RBI singles in the inning as Sanderson sent 12 batters to the plate.
“It helps we’ve done this all season long,” Wood said of overcoming deficits. “When we get down that early in the game, it’s never really a problem for us.”
James Walker earned the victory in relief of starter Drew Baldy. Walker tossed three shutout innings, allowing just one hit while striking out three, before Jaxon Bunton finished up with a scoreless seventh inning.
Early on, things were looking good for East Chapel Hill (12-12).
The Wildcats’ first six batters all reached base, the last five on hits. The first out came on Bryce Jeske’s sacrifice fly that scored Brad Rice to put East Chapel Hill ahead, 5-0.
East Chapel Hill’s bats were largely silent after that, and the Wildcats were also plagued by some shaky fielding.
A two-out fielding error allowed two Sanderson runners to score in the first inning. An inning later, Tinstman tripled to left with one out and scored one out later when Wood’s suicide squeeze bunt was mishandled.
“Offensively we had a good start but defensively we didn’t,” East Chapel Hill coach Phil Woodell said.“We didn’t make some plays and it snowballed.
“They swing the bats really well and when you give them extra chances like we did, they capitalize.”