SMITHFIELD — It took West Johnston three innings to get a big hit with runners on base Tuesday night against Smithfield-Selma. Once Tyler Tilson broke through with a two-run single with the bases loaded in the third, it was contagious.
West Johnston erupted for nine runs in the third inning and went on to cruise to an 11-1, five-inning victory over the Spartans in a nonconference game.
Smithfield-Selma (2-3) was unable to use its top two pitchers against West Johnston after both pitched in Monday night’s 11-inning comeback victory over East Wake. A succession of Spartans pitchers had trouble finding the plate against the Wildcats, combining to walk nine batters – all in the first three innings.
West Johnston failed to take full advantage of the free passes in the first two innings. The Wildcats (2-0, with both victories over Smithfield-Selma) left the bases loaded in the first inning without scoring a run. In the second, they scored a pair of runs without getting a hit. Smithfield-Selma walked four batters and hit another one, but West Johnston scored could only muster two runs courtesy of a passed ball and a balk.
Things began the much same way in the third inning. Dylan McLamb led off with a double to right field and an error and a walk loaded the bases. A bases-loaded walk made it 3-0, but the Spartans got an out at the plate on a comebacker to the pitcher. After a strikeout, there were two outs and the Wildcats were in danger of letting the Spartans off the hook again.
Not this time.
Tripp Atkinson drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0 and then Tilson sent a hot shot past Spartans first baseman Chris Simonson to make it 6-0.
“Most of the time when we get hits, one person will get a hit and everyone follows behind him,” Tilson said.
That’s exactly what happened.
Sterling Atkinson followed Tilson’s hit with a two-run single to center field and McLamb reached on an error on a high fly ball to right field. Michael Blevins followed with a two-run single up the middle and Dalton List completed the scoring with an RBI single to right field.
West Johnston sent 13 batters to the plate in the big inning, getting five hits, to open up an 11-0 lead.
“That is one of the things we have emphasized all year is that we have got to hit,” West Johnston coach Joey Worley said. “This was a nonconference win but the Greater Neuse River is a pitcher-oriented conference and we are going to hit and have to hit with runners on base.
“The first couple of innings, I really wasn’t pleased. To win big games, we’ve got to get hits with runners in scoring position. … It’s an old adage, they’ve been saying it for years, that hitting is contagious. When one guy gets the feeling, everybody gets the feeling and we start hitting the baseball. We’ve got to do that.”
The Wildcats got standout pitching from a trio of right-handers. Starter Jayce Stephenson, who was pitching for the first time in more than two years after coming back from shoulder surgery, worked two scoreless innings to get the win – allowing an infield single that was Smithfield-Selma’s lone hit of the game and striking out three without a walk.
List pitched the next two innings, giving up a run in the fourth on a walk, a wild pitch, a hit batter and an RBI groundout. Thomas Coggburn pitched the fifth, striking out two in a perfect inning.
“Thomas is our ace, but because of the rainouts, he hasn’t gotten in an inning until tonight,” Worley said. “I thought all three guys did good.”
Smithfield-Selma starter Dylan Brown (0-1) took the loss, giving up two runs in 1 1/3 innings and issuing six walks. Cody Simonson, Brandon Bales and Austin Young also pitched for the Spartans.
“We didn’t pitch well tonight, didn’t hit well tonight and had some defensive mishaps at key times,” Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhon said. “We had a long game last night. I don’t know if we were tired tonight, but I’m not making excuses.
“Joey’s pitchers threw the ball well. (West Johnston) swung the bats. They deserved everything they got.”
Smithfield-Selma dropped to 2-3.
“We had some young arms on the mound tonight, but they are capable of getting people out,” Lawhon said. “(West Johnston) just swung the bats. We walked a bunch and you add an error or two and they start swinging the bats and it gets ugly like that.”
The nine-run West Johnston third was not the first time the Spartans have been victimized by a big inning, Lawhon said.
“Early in the season we gave up a 10-run inning after playing well for six innings,” Lawhon said. “We just seem to have one inning where we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
On Monday night, the Spartans were able to rally from a 9-3 deficit against previously unbeaten East Wake – tying the score in the seventh and winning 10-9 in 11 innings. But there was no rally on Tuesday against West Johnston, which simply had too much pitching.
“This crowd battles,” Lawhon said of his team. “It’s a battling crowd. But Joey’s got a good squad. He’s got good arms.