Hardballers Gather Three Straight Wins

Water Valley Blue Devil first baseman Josh Lowery takes a pick-off throw during action against the Byhalia Indians Saturday. – Photo by Jeff Eubanks

By Jeff Eubanks
Sports Reporter

    The Water Valley Blue Devil baseball team saw plenty of action this past week.  The Blue Devils were able to go a perfect 3-0, improving their overall record to 3-2.

Tuesday, Feb. 19

    A six run sixth-inning allowed the Blue Devils to sink the Vikings of North Pontotoc. The Vikings were able to pick up two runs in the fifth, closing the Devils lead to only a run. But a pair of two run hits in the bottom of the sixth was too much for the Vikings to handle as the Blue Devils won 12-5.

Capitalizing:

    Coach Robbins and Coach Webb have emphasized the need to have a “yes, yes approach” at the plate. Step in the box ready to hit is their motto. The Blue Devils were ready Tuesday, getting into only nine two-strike counts and reaching base on six of those.

    “That’s how you win ball games. Overall I was pleased with our approach tonight offensively” said Doug Robbins, head coach of the Blue Devils.

    The Blue Devils were able to capitalize on mistakes made by North Pontotoc’s defense early on. A 5-2 lead at the end of the third was largely contributed to two walks, three hit batters and two errors made by the Vikings. It would not be long before the Blue Devils began to score on their own though.

Balanced Performance

    A pitcher can be dominating without throwing 95 miles an hour. Good pitchers make pitches to get hitters out. That is exactly what Josh Johnson did.

    Johnson went the distance, throwing seven-innings, while only walking four (two of which got picked off) and allowing two earned runs on five hits.

    “He got in a lot of good counts and was able to stay ahead of guys, keeping them on the defensive side,” said Robbins on his pitcher’s performance.

    Johnson was able to keep the Vikings off-balance most of the evening. He was able to get eight fly ball outs throughout the game. He never faced more than five batters in any inning

    At the plate Johnson was able to help his cause going 3 for 4 with a home run, double and three RBI.

    In the bottom of the fourth-inning with a 2-0 count Johnson stepped out and looked down the third base line to Robbins. “Right now,” said Robbins, expecting a good pitch.

    Johnson answered by turning on a fastball and putting it over the left field fence for a home run and giving himself a 6-3 lead.

Putting It Away

    The Blue Devils held a one run lead heading into the bottom of the sixth-inning.

    “I want more than one (run) guys,” Johnson told his teammates. He definitely got what he wanted.

    The Blue Devils were able to put up six runs on four hits in the bottom half of the inning. Johnson doubled home Shonquayle Jenkins and Chris Gaston to start things to get the first runs across of the inning. Tank Hervey’s two-run home run put the Devils comfortably in the driver’s seat with a seven run lead.

    Walt McCullough matched Johnson’s three RBI with three of his own while going 2 for 4 at the plate with a couple of doubles.

Saturday, Feb. 23

    The Blue Devils were able to outscore the Byhalia Indians by 24 runs during doubleheader action Saturday. Both Hervey and Johnson showed to be in control on the mound combining for 19 strikeouts and only allowing three hits.

Game 1

Combo No-No

    Hervey and Drew Pratt were able to blank the Indians’ hitters for a no hitter.

    Hervey overpowered the Indians for six innings, primarily relying on his fastball to strikeout 11 hitters. The Indians were only able to put the ball in play seven times against him, never reaching base safely by a hit.

    “He was locating his fastball well, he threw enough off speed stuff to keep them honest, but he was dominant with his fastball,” said Coach David Webb on Hervey’s performance.

    A pitcher’s pitch count is carefully watched this early in the year. The fear of losing a good arm this early in the season is on the mind of most coaches and was certainly on the minds of the Blue Devils coaching staff as they pulled Hervey after he reached near the 90 pitch mark.

    “His arm was a little sore last week so we wanted to go ahead and get him out of there instead of letting him finish it up. We want to protect him cause we are going to count on him come district games. We don’t want to hurt him early,” added Webb.

    Pratt was able to work a perfect seventh, getting a groundout and a couple of pop ups to close out the game and secure the no hitter.

    Hervey earned the win, posting his record to 1-0 on the year.

Starts at the Top

    The top two batters of the Blue Devils lineup were solid. The duo of Johnson and Brandon Brooks combined for three of the team’s six runs and five of the team’s eight hits.

    “We tried a little something different batting Johnson leadoff that way the second time through the lineup JB (Justin Brooks) will be hitting in front of Josh at the nine spot. Justin was able to get on base five of the six times he went to the plate. If he gets on in the nine hole it will be tough for us not to score runs that inning,” commented Webb on the team’s new lineup.

    Johnson finished 2 for 3 with a triple, scoring two runs and a sacrifice fly RBI. B. Brooks matched the man in front of him going 3 for 4 with three singles, two RBI and a pair of stolen bases.

    Jenkins had a productive game at the plate as well. He was 1 for 2 with a double and a sacrifice fly RBI.

Game 2

The Big One

       The Blue Devils were able to put up more runs in the bottom of the fourth than they had all day combined. Heading into the inning the Blue Devils were leading 6-1. 17 batters later the Blue Devils had put up 13 runs, capitalizing on six walks with six hits making the score 19-1.

    “We finally had that big inning that we had been looking for all year,” Webb added

    “You mix in some walks and errors all of a sudden a four run inning turns into a 12, 13 or 14 run inning,” the coach continued.

    Hitting is said to be contagious, spreading once it starts. The Blue Devils were able to catch a case. Nine of the 12 different batters that were sent to the plate for the Blue Devils were able to record a hit.

    “The thing that we were pleased with was the fact that the hits were not just coming from our starters. We put some guys in who haven’t got to hit all year and came in and got some base hits,” said Webb.

       B. Brooks had a double that drove in three runs in the fourth. Pratt, Jenkins and Josh Lowery all were able to drive in two RBI each for the game.

Tamed Again

    The lone blemish on the scoreboard came from a leadoff homerun in the second inning by the Indians’ Cody Wiley off of Josh Johnson.  The solo shot was the only hard hit ball off Johnson all day as the Indians were never given the chance to run wild.

    Johnson pitched four innings, scattering three hits and striking out eight while walking only one. Once again he was able to get hitters out by making the right pitch selection and locating his pitches. The Indians were never able to send more than five batters to the plate in any inning against him.

    “When his split finger is on it is real tough to hit. As long as he can throw some off speed stuff he will be good with is fastball,” Webb said.

    Going into the fifth-inning Johnson had threw 62 pitches, but combined with his performance on Tuesday he had thrown 162 for the week. Trying to protect a valued arm, the Blue Devils sent Pratt back out to the hill to finish the fifth-inning. Pratt was able to do as he did in the first game, pitch a perfect final inning.

    Johnson was able to get the win for the Blue Devils improving his record to 2-1

    Next action for the Blue Devils baseball team will be at district opponent Bruce. The Trojans will host the Blue Devils Friday, Feb. 29, with junior varsity action starting at 4 p.m. and varsity action to follow shortly after.

     The Blue Devils then have a two-game home stand against Charleston and Eupora. The Tigers will come to the Valley to play a doubleheader Saturday, March 1, with the first game beginning at 1 p.m. The district march continues when the Eagles come to town for split squad action Tuesday, March 4, with the junior varsity teams kicking action off at 4 p.m. and varsity to follow shortly after. Please come out and show support for your Water Valley Blue Devils baseball team.

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