Jack Davis drove in Josh Meridith with the winning run on an eighth-inning squeeze bunt as the Cougars came from behind to defeat the visiting Hancock County Hornets 6-5 in Thursday’s home opener at Don Lee Field. The legendary coach for whom the field was named was on hand to throw out the first pitch.
The Cougars used four different pitchers on the day. Sophomore right-hander Braxton Hodges started the game and went 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs, only one of which was earned, allowing seven hits while walking one and striking out one.
Junior Riley Mudd replaced Hodges in the fourth inning and pitched 1 2/3 inning without giving up a run. Mudd walked one and struck out one.
Senior Gage Akridge relieved in the sixth inning and was in line in the seventh to be the winner after the Cougars scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth, but Akridge was taken deep by the Hornets’ Clay Herndon in the top of the seventh to tie the game one last time and send it into extra innings.
Senior Chandler England replaced Akridge in the eighth inning with one out and a runner in scoring position and retired the last two batters. England was then the winning pitcher after the Cougars scored in the eighth.
The Hornets got on the board first with a pair of unearned runs against Hodges in the first inning. With one out, back-to-back singles by catcher Garrett Pate and pitcher Colton White put runners at first and second.
That brought up Herndon and the first baseman singled sharply to left. When the ball got under the glove of Akridge, who started in left field, it rolled to the fence allowing both runners to score on the error.
The Cougars got one of those runs back in their half of the first. Junior second baseman Hunter Young doubled into the gap in left center, moved to third on a ground out by Hunter Shiarella, then scored on an infield hit by Mudd.
The Hornets made it 3-1 in the third inning. Tanner Singleton walked leading off and moved to second on a wild pitch. Singleton later scored on a Herndon single.
Grayson County missed a chance for a big inning in the third, but they did score twice to tie things at 3-3. Hodges reached on an error, then moved to second on a Shiarella single to left. Mudd was plunked with a pitch to load the bases for Landon Nichols, who singled up the middle to drive home Hodges.
One out later Shiarella scored and runners moved to second and third on a ground out by England. The Cougars looked as though they would score at least one more run when White uncorked a wild pitch. Mudd broke for home, but when the ball caromed off the bricks at the bottom of the backstop, it went right back to Pate who made the easy tag on Mudd for the final out of the inning.
The Hornets answered right back with an unearned run in the top of the fourth to retake the lead. Designated hitter Lathan Lamar reached on an error and was sacrificed to second. Left-fielder B. P. Roberts followed with a single through the middle to plate Lamar to make it 4-3.
Grayson County tied things with a run in the fifth. With one out, Shiarella doubled to the wall in left, then moved to third on an infield hit by Mudd. Nichols followed with a little come-backer to White, who got an out at second, but when the Hornets could not turn the double play, Shiarella crossed the plate with the tying run.
The Cougars took their first lead of the night with a run in the bottom of the sixth. Jacob Vincent walked with one out then moved to second on a ground out by Davis. Young followed with a clutch single down the line in left that drove Vincent home. Young was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, but the Cougars had the lead heading into the seventh inning.
Akridge had retired the Hornets in order in the sixth, and retired the first two batters in the seventh. Needing just one more out to pick up the win, Akridge went to a 3-1 count on Herndon. But Akridge’s next pitch was a little to sweet and the burly Hornet first baseman sent a rocket out of the park to tie it one last time, 5-5.
The Cougars won it in the eighth with an unearned run. Catcher Parker Cain led off the inning with a slow roller right at the second baseman, Singleton, who let the ball get under his glove. That allowed Cain to reach first safely, where he was replaced by Meridith as a courtesy runner.
England followed with a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line. When J. T. Bell’s throw to first was off the mark, the runners moved up to second and third.
White then intentionally walked Vincent to load the bases for Davis. After lengthy discussions by both coaches with their players about how they were going to play the next at bat, Davis squared around to bunt and placed the ball perfectly in front of the plate as Meridith steamed home with the winning run.
Reach Don Brown at 259-9622, ext 2016.