March 31, 2010 9:06:00 AM
HAMILTON -- It might not seem like it, but the marathon is only approaching the halfway point for the Hamilton and West Lowndes high school baseball teams.
Poor weather has made it seem like the teams have been at it longer, canceling several dates and making it even tougher to find dry time on the field.
On Tuesday, both teams showed they are still striving to find their consistency in a game that featured plenty of action on every play.
Dylan Ernest had three hits and Austin Welch added two more as Hamilton capitalized on eight errors in a 16-6 victory in a Class 2A, Region 2, District 1 game.
The game was stopped with no outs in the top of the sixth due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Austin Earnest earned the victory, allowing three hits and striking out nine. He survived a seven-error effort to help the Lions improve to 9-2 and 2-0 in the district.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said the Lions'' fielding performance was atypical. The Lions will need to bounce back because they play host to district contender Bruce at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
"We can''t make seven errors Thursday night and expect to win," Earnest said. "Last year, we had a few games like that, but this year that is the first one. We have been playing real good defense all year."
Earnest said his team''s hitting has improved gradually since the beginning of the season. With consistent pitching performances, Earnest feels the Lions are on track to make another run at the Class 2A state title. So far, Earnest feels the Lions have done better than expected considering the competition they have faced. Aside from a loss to Nettleton on Saturday, Earnest said the Lions have played well. Their only other loss is to Oxford.
"I am pleased with where we are," Earnest said. "We could easily be 10-1. Nettleton beat us pretty good Saturday, and I threw about five pitchers."
Hamilton took control Tuesday in the bottom of the first, scoring seven runs on three hits and four errors against starter and loser Fredrico Moody. Welch''s two-run double was the key blow.
West Lowndes answered with four runs in the top of the second. Demetrius Malone started the rally with a double, and Trevor Stowers had a two-run single. The final run scored after catcher Parker Rye (three RBIs) couldn''t secure a throw from center fielder Chase Reeves that was in time to get the runner.
Hamilton committed two more errors in West Lowndes'' two-run fourth, but it responded with two more in the bottom half of the inning and three more in the fifth before forcing the mercy rule after a Kevin McCartney single, a single by Dylan Earnest, and a two-base throwing error.
Coach Earnest said he has been pleased with the contributions he has received from players up and down the lineup.
"We have really been trying to focus at practice and work hard on improving our hitting because that is where we struggled a lot last year," Earnest said. "We are hitting better. It has been gradual, and, hopefully, it will continue to climb. A couple of young guys have stepped up. Austin Welch is wearing it out for us. He was hitting .471 going into tonight. He didn''t play a lot last year. That is a big plus."
Earnest hopes the length of the season will help his team come together.
"We''re seeing improvement," Earnest said. "Hopefully, we''ll continue to improve. There are some guys I know who wish they were playing and had been playing and have been struggling and now are not playing as much. They have had good attitudes about it and could be rotten apples, but they are not doing that. As long as they can stay positive and everybody does their part, we''re going to keep getting stronger. We just have to keep putting the pieces together."
West Lowndes coach Todd Stanley hopes his team continues to do the same. Tyquan Lucious had the only other hit for the Panthers (3-3), who committed errors in a variety of ways, due in part to a lack of time out on the practice field, according to Stanley.
"We haven''t got enough work in," Stanley said. "We''re struggling defensively. We threw a couple of guys tonight (Trevor Stowers relieved Moody) who hadn''t got a lot of innings in. ... You''re not going to beat a good team like Hamilton with eight errors. I thought their pitcher pounded the strike zone."
Losing eight seniors, Stanley said his team has been competitive in the step up to Class 2A. He said four rainouts before spring break have slowed the development of his younger players.
"These guys just need some time," Stanley said. "We have a lot of work to do. It is early in the season. We just need some at-bats and some playing time. The next two or three weeks we have some makeup games and we''re going to be playing pretty much every day. Hopefully it will get better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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