ROCKY MOUNT — The Garner Nationals opened Area I West Conference play the same way the area American Legion Baseball squad had preformed the first seven games of the season Wednesday night.
The Nationals, featuring players from Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Johnston County, pitched great, showed solid offensive balance throughout its lineup and turned key defensive plays in a 7-4 victory over Rocky Mount Coleman-Pitt Post 58.
“I thought we played really well,” said Nationals manager Chris Cook. “I think we played the part of a 7-0 team. I mean, there were several times we could have panicked: the play at the plate, the double after the error, throw that guy out.
“We were passively aggressive. We put up some runs with bunts, helped ourselves out with some steals.”
Garner opened its scoring with a three-run, two-out rally in the third with a two-run single by Lucas Scott and Brett Daniels’ RBI single. And after Post 58 tied the game in the fourth, the Nationals worked their way out of a jam with a double play that saw Christian Perry thrown out at the plate after leading off the inning with a double.
Garner loaded the bases in the sixth, then went ahead on a Rocky Mount infield error and pushed the lead to 5-3 on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Stephens.
Coleman-Pitt Post 58 pulled to within a run in the seventh on Linwood Jones’ RBI double but saw its chance to get closer end when Josh Stikeleather ran down his second foul ball wide of first base to record an out for the third out of the inning.
Post 58 standout Khalil Macklin reached on a two-base Garner error in the eighth with nobody out, but pitcher Brighton Hudson caught Macklin breaking for third early and picked him.
Stephens scored after singling in the Garner ninth on a Post 58 error, then West Johnston grad Jack Sherrill scored when Scott got into a rundown on a steal attempt to push the final margin to 7-4.
Scott reached base in four of his five plate appearances, going 2-for-3 with two walks and a pair of RBIs. Seven other Garner batters had one hit each.
Hudson worked the bottom of the ninth without any damage to finish off another consistent pitching effort from the Nationals.
Chandler Jones got the win with five innings of four-hit ball. Dillon Lead held the lead for Hudson who held Rocky Mount scoreless for the final two frames.
“We pitched great again, of course,” Cook said. “I just think we grew up a lot as a team tonight.”
It was Coleman-Pitt’s second straight loss — both in conference play — after a 4-0-1 start to the season. Garner returns to Rocky Mount on Wednesday night for a rematch.
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest