February 27, 2010 11:07:00 PM
Down 0-2 in the count, Christian Dale didn''t have any wiggle room.
With the suicide squeeze bunt on and a pitch coming high and tight, Avery Ford had little margin for error.
On both occasions, the Falcons executed. As a result, the Columbus High School baseball team found the sparks it needed to earn its first victory of the season.
Dale''s two-run single and Ford''s successful bunt were part of a five-run fifth inning Saturday that helped Columbus rally for a 12-6 victory against Caledonia in the final game of the Columbus Classic at Columbus High''s Sammy Fletcher Field.
Both plays were crucial parts of a four-hit inning that helped the Falcons (1-1) erase a 6-5 deficit and rebound from a 6-2 loss to Shannon on Friday night.
"Christian had the big hit and Avery did a great job," Columbus coach Jeffrey Cook said. "We have been practicing the squeeze play every day, just about, and I told Avery after the game that is probably the first time he has done that in a game situation."
Nick Durrah and Stefan Hairston singled and Tyler Mason walked to open the bottom of the fifth. Caledonia starter Cory Critcher used a fastball and a curveball to get ahead of Dale, but the freshman shortstop/pitcher lined a single up the middle on the next pitch that scored two runs to give Columbus the lead for good.
Aurby Burdine (three hits, three RBIs) followed with a run-scoring single to make it 8-6. But Cook wanted more and went to small ball to get it. Ford responded by moving his bat up and in, almost in self-preservation, to get the bunt down to score another run to make it 9-6.
Tyji Hawkins'' double plated Burdine with the final run of the inning. Hawkins was called out and his hit was erased after he was called out on appeal for missing first base.
The out didn''t affect Columbus'' momentum. The Falcons tacked on three more runs in the sixth to put the game away and make a winner out of Dale.
Cook, who admitted to being a little relieved after the game, said his team''s ability to execute in clutch situations in the fifth was the key.
"We put it together at the end," Cook said. "We didn''t get the bats going until late, and Caledonia did great job and threw strikes."
Cook was pleased to see his players respond after dropping their season opener. He said the coaches challenged the Falcons after the Shannon game and reminded the senior-laden bunch that there are no tomorrows for them to leave a legacy with Columbus High baseball.
Cook hopes Saturday turns out to be a first step.
"We challenged them to come out with more focus and intensity and to be prepared to play," Cook said. "They did that. That is exciting, and we look forward to keeping it going."
Hawkins (single), Josh Tentoni (double), Mason (single), and Dale (two-run single in first inning) had hits for Columbus against Shannon. The Falcons struck out eight times in the loss.
Durrah started and took the loss. He allowed four hits in the first inning, as Ben Russell and Blake Saylors had RBI singles and Chris Davis had a two-run double.
Anthony Mallard had two hits for Shannon.
Caledonia (0-2) lost to Alcorn Central 4-0 earlier in the first game Saturday.
Montana Jacobs (two singles) and Richard Keene, Frank Spruill, and Zack Senneff (singles) had hits for the Confederates.
Curry Freeman started and took the loss.
Against Columbus, Caledonia coach Randy Finch lamented his team''s inability to do the "little things." Unfortunately, a single that dropped in no man''s in right field that could have been caught and a throw home on a bunt that was a little off line cost the Confederates.
Caledonia had 11 hits, but a three-hit effort by Senneff and two-hit nights by Keene and Freeman weren''t enough to rally the team in the late innings.
"I thought we swung the bat well, but it is still the little things," Finch said. "We missed a cutoff, we let a ball drop behind second base on the skirt that killed us. ... We were in both of these ballgames. We''re young, and we''re competing. Like I told these guys, Rome wasn''t built in a day, and we have to get a winning mentality out there."
Finch saw improvement from game one to game two. He praised Freeman and Critcher for throwing strikes, and he said the Confederates will continue to work hard to iron out the little things.
"I told the kids if you will hustle good things will happen," Finch said. "We''re young, but that is no excuse. You still have to throw strikes, you still have to make the routine plays, and you still have to put the ball in play."
Phillip Quinn had three singles and Jeremy Powers had two singles for Alcorn Central. Justin Sparks started and earned the victory.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.