EDEN — In baseball, there is rarely such a thing as a must-win in regular season play, but in Morehead’s case, it was about as close to a necessity as they have faced all season.
Coming off back-to-back Mid-State 3A Conference losses to cross-county rival McMichael last week, Morehead put a complete game together to come away with a 5-1 league win over Person Tuesday night in Eden.
“You kind of feel that way, but you don’t want to say it. It puts pressure on the kids to say ‘we’ve got to get this,’ but yeah, it’s real good to get the win. We needed it,” Morehead head coach Jeff Roberts said.
In a battle between two teams struggling to break out of the basement of the Mid-State 3A Conference standings, after loading the bases, Morehead drew first blood in the bottom of the second inning when junior Brayden Smart hit a sacrifice to score freshman Hayden Friese for the early 1-0 lead.
But despite having a pair of runners in scoring position on second and third with just one out, Person’s sophomore pitcher Jed Whitfield kept his poise and secured the final two outs to end the threat.
The Rockets would even things up in the top of the fourth however, when Nathan Phillips got onboard with a walk. Up next, Austin T. Oakley ripped a deep shot to the outfield sending a hard-charging Phillips around third after getting the go ahead sign. He slid safely home to even the score at 1-1.
With just one out, Person threatened once again in the top of the fifth with a runner in scoring position, but a leaping catch in the infield by senior shortstop Taylor Roberts took care of the second out, and his subsequent throw to first forced the third, ended the inning.
That inspired defensive play carried over to the bottom of the frame as three consecutive runners loaded the bases for the second time in the game with just one out once again. Person elected to make a pitching change and brought in freshman Cayden Goodwin, but senior Noah Blackwell came through in the clutch on the next at bat, ripping a double.
After Blackwell’s shot, RBIs by Carson Wray, Noah Yeatts and Jordan Sharpe plated runs, and when all was said and done, Morehead had built a 5-1 lead.
“We’ve been leaving the bases loaded a lot this year and not producing, so when Blackwell hit that shot, it gave us some momentum. Our defense made some great plays as well and gave us some momentum. But to get a hit like that, it just gave us a little bit of confidence and we’d like to get more of those,” said Roberts.
The Panthers followed suit on the mound with a pitching change and brought in senior closer Bradley Vernon. Person got a runner on deck following an error, then Phillips blasted a shot to deep center field threatening to get back in it.
But Morehead junior outfielder Carson Wray had a bead on the ball and made a leaping grab off of a sprint about 10 feet from the left field wall. By that time Phillips had almost reached second base. Realizing what he thought was a ticket home for a score was an out, he reversed field just as Wray launched a perfect throw that beat out the runner scrambling back to first by one step to end the inning on a double-play.
In the top of the seventh, Vernon forced three infield shots and Morehead’s defense did the rest as they closed out 1-2-3 inning to secure the win.
Morehead junior Logan Dodson picked up the win. In five innings pitched, he gave up three hits, walked one and struck out five Person batters. Vernon picked up the save and didn’t allow a hit for the remainder of the game.
Whitfield had a solid night on the losing end. In four innings of work, he gave up just one hit, surrendered the lone run, walked four and struck out three.
Morehead improved to 3-8 in league play and .500 at 8-8 overall with six regular season games remaining.
The teams were scheduled to meet again Friday in Roxboro, but results were unavailable at press time.
Oakley, Phelps combine for shutout victory against Rams
The Person High School baseball team snapped its nine-game losing streak with a 5-0 win against Northeast Guilford Wednesday at home.
Rocket pitchers Austin C. Oakley and Jared Phelps combined for the shutout.
Oakley started and lasted four innings, giving up only three hits while striking out five.
Phelps picked up the three-inning save and held the Rams hitless while striking out four.
Person got on the board with two runs in the first inning and steadily stretched its lead with runs in the second, third and fourth.
Cayden Goodwin led the Rockets at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. The freshman scored twice.
Austin T. Oakley had two hits and scored a run, while Justin Crabtree doubled and drove in one.
Nathan Phillips, Phelps, Devaun Nelson and Jacob Vaughn each had hits.
The Rockets will be off until Thursday when they begin play in the Oxford Prep Easter Tournament.