It took two extra innings to seal the deal but the Apalachee High School baseball team recorded its first win of the 2020 campaign in its home opener against Walnut Grove on Friday, Feb. 14.
A suicide squeeze by Ethan Middlebrooks in the bottom of the ninth inning secured the 3-2 victory during a cold afternoon and evening. The Wildcats (1-1) had loaded the bases with one out in the ninth when Middlebrooks executed the play to perfection, allowing courtesy runner Colton Austin to cross home.
“We deserved this one,” AHS coach Allan Bailey said. “However, for us to be a good team we have to learn to execute and do the little things right. Little things add up to big things in close games.”
The Wildcats trailed 2-0 after the top of the third inning as Walnut Grove (0-1) broke the scoreless tie. The Warriors scored their first run on a fielder’s choice and then increased the lead on an error.
AHS scored one in the bottom of the fourth inning. It took until the fourth for the Wildcats to record their first hit as Colby Sikes had a leadoff single. Sikes then reached third after a throw over from the pitcher to first base.
Sikes then scored on a wild pitch.
In the bottom of the sixth, AJ Forbing had a leadoff walk, followed by a single by Nate Hodnett. Brad Donahue was used as a courtesy runner for Hodnett.
Bam Wilson then delivered a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. Forbing would steal home as Walnut Grove’s catcher was injured on the play. The home plate umpire never stopped play, however, and Donahue attempted to score as well but was tagged out.
Manning West was the starting pitcher for AHS, working the game’s first four innings allowing three hits and striking out one. Chris Miller worked the final five innings and kept Walnut Grove off the board while striking out four. The Warriors managed just two hits against Miller.
Walnut Grove advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2019 in GHSA Class AAAAA. AHS is looking to build on the momentum of its first ever postseason appearance last spring.
“You like to get a win any way you can,” Bailey said. “It was tough conditions tonight and this was the first time we have been able to be on the field in several days. There is only so much work you can do inside.”
The AHS coach said the team’s bats will come around eventually.
“It took us a while to get going tonight,” Bailey said. “Pitching is always ahead of hitting at this point of the season. However, we had chances to be out in front in the game. We have to be able to take advantage of any opportunity that we get.”
AHS will host Jackson County on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 5:30 p.m. and will play a doubleheader at Rutland on Saturday, Feb. 22.