By Rick Sheek
The bats were alive, and the performance on the mound was efficient.
But what Hampton’s baseball coach liked the most about Monday’s 13-3 Watauga Valley Conference victory over visiting Cloudland was stellar defense.
“We only had one error in the field, and that was what I was more pleased about than anything,” Matthew Hardin said. “When they hit the ball at us we caught it, and made plays that we needed to make.”
The Bulldogs (1-2) hammered 14 hits. Mark Ailport and David Finney each batted 3 for 3, while Josh Henegar was 3 for 4.
Ailport went the distance. In five innings he was touched for three hits, one earned run and struck out six with four walks and a hit batter.
This was the Highlanders’ season opener.
“I’ve got a lot of inexperience on the team,” Cloudland coach Kevin Kendall said. “We did OK in spots. We beat ourselves in spots with errors and some miscommunication.”
The Bulldogs loaded the bases in their first at-bat, but Zack Shell escaped. Hampton surged to a 3-0 advantage in the third inning after Dallas Clawsen bunted in a run, a wild pitch plated a runner and Finney’s run-scoring single.
Cloudland pulled within a run in the third. An error allowed a score, and Austin Bell stole home.
The bottom half of that inning saw pinch-hitter T.J. Hicks rap a run-scoring single. Ailport followed with another run-scoring single and Finney delivered a two-run single to make it 7-3.
“I expect them to put the bat on the ball,” Hardin said. “That’s what I expect. Mark, this is his third year of starting every day, and I expect him to step up and get on base.
“Finney swings the bat real well. Henegar did really well.”
Hampton juiced the bags in the fourth with none out. Runners crossed on a wild pitch and hit batter.
Henegar rapped a run-scoring single, and following a walk Shell got the hook. Another run was walked in and an error brought in a score which made it 12-2.
Shell, in 3 1/3 innings, was roughed up for 13 hits. He yielded eight earned runs, fanned three and walked four with four wild pitches and two hit batsmen.
“I believe we’ll get better,” Kendall said. “I believe we’ve got good things coming. We’ve just got to have a lot of repetition.
“We just haven’t had a lot of practice. We’ve had kids out, kids hurt.”
In the fifth, Danny Arnett delivered a run-scoring single to make it 12-3. The affair as called in that inning after a Brent Hyder wild pitch punched in the final score.
“We had a couple of baserunning errors,” Hardin said. “You have that early in the season, I guess. I thought we should have scored a couple of more runs there during the course of the game, but we didn’t because of baserunning errors. There are things that we need to work on.”
In 1 1/3 innings, Hyder allowed one hit. He struck out two and walked one with a wild pitch.
Arnett batted 2 for 3, including a double.
“Hampton’s better than us right now,” Kendall said. “But, we’re going to practice and play hard.”
Clawsen, the Bulldogs’ southpaw catcher, picked a runner off third base in the fifth. Anthony Oliver went 2 for 2, doubled, stole two bases and reached safely in all four plate appearances.
“I was pleased, all the way around with our performance,” Hardin said. “We had a couple of bone-head plays.”