May 14, 2010 8:39:00 AM
HAMILTON -- With two perfect games and a pair of one-hitters to his credit, the pressure on Hamilton High School pitcher Dylan Earnest to match or exceed his more recent exploits can often times be overwhelming.
That pressure dissipated rather quickly Thursday after Bruce High School uncharacteristically touched the senior lefthander for two first-inning hits -- the second of which was a two-run homer by cleanup hitter Caleb Hanley -- en route to 2-0 lead just four batters into the game.
Undaunted by falling behind, Earnest quickly reverted back to his usual form and went on to toss six innings of shutout baseball en route to a 6-2 win in the opening game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A North State series.
"He''s a good pitcher, no doubt about that," said Bruce coach Sid Burt, whose team is now 0-3 when facing Earnest. "We''ve seen him three times this year and haven''t gotten to him yet."
Earnest finished with a sparkling three-hitter with two walks and, although he didn''t match the 13 strikeouts he posted in his two previous appearances against the Trojans, the Itawamba Community College signee did reach double-digits with 10 strikeouts.
Along the way, he turned in three-up, three-downs in the second, third and sixth innings and faced just four batters in the fourth, fifth and seventh frames.
"Expectations for a kid to perform at a high level every time out can sometimes be unreasonable," said Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest, who also happens to be his uncle. "But it''s hard for a human to respond the exact same way every time he takes the field and the one thing to remember here is that he''s human just like you and I are -- except that he''s just a kid."
Faced with a new kind of pressure, that of being on the short end of a 2-0 score, Earnest (11-0) did what he does best and his teammates did their part by erasing the early two-run deficit.
Earnest got the ball rolling offensively in the bottom of the first when he reached on Hanley''s throwing error and Chase Reeves, who came into the North Half opener hitting .388, promptly slapped a Jay King pitch into the parking lot to tie the score 2-2.
In the second inning, Hamilton utilized four singles to score three runs to take a 5-2 lead.
Cole Gill started things off with a leadoff single, took second on a Graham Pritchett sacrifice bunt and scored the tie-breaking run on Nathan Cockerham''s RBI single. Parker Rye promptly sent Cockerham to third with a single and then stole second to put two runners in scoring position. Earnest followed with a clutch two-run single to give himself a 5-2 cushion.
King and Earnest matched goose eggs the next three innings before Hamilton tallied one run in the sixth when a Parker Rye bunt single drove in Pritchett with the Lions'' sixth and final run.
Matthew McDowell led off the seventh inning for Bruce with a single, the first Trojan hit since Hanley''s first-inning blast, but after moving to second on a ground out, was left stranded when Earnest fanned Reed Gregory and Tiny Moore to preserve the win.
"We got that early lead and were in good shape, but then Hamilton answered right back to tie the game," said Burt. "What we needed to do was continue to put the pressure on them and if we could have kept the lead for a couple of innings maybe the third time would have been the charm for us."
Offensively, Reeves improved his season batting average to .414 by going 3 for 3 to lead the Lions'' nine-hit attack. Rye chipped in with two hits as Kevin McCartney, Earnest, Gill and Cockerham also hit safely for the Lions.
Hanley, who touched Earnest for a two-run home run off a high curve earlier in the season, was 1 for 2 with a pair of RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base for Bruce.
Hamilton travels to Bruce for Game 2 at 6:30 p.m. today and Game 3 will be Saturday at Hamilton if needed.
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