Clarke County baseball edges Judges in opener
WINCHESTER — Early in the season coaches never know exactly what to expect when their teams first take the field, especially since last week’s snowstorm limited and cancelled most practices and scrimmage games in the area.
The adversity only intensified for the Handley and Clarke County baseball teams when they learned the lights at Bridgeforth Field were not working, and there would be no pre-game batting practice or infield in order to start the game early in hopes of completing it before it got dark.
However, both Handley coach Eddie Simmons and Clarke County’s Jon Novick were pleasantly surprised with how their teams played Monday afternoon in the season opener for both.
What was a well-played, well-pitched game came down to a couple swings of the bat for the Eagles, and then holding off a fierce seventh-inning rally by the Judges to notch a 2-1 non-district victory.
“After having no scrimmage, limited time on the field, we didn’t get BP, I was happy with the way we came out and played today,” Novick said. “Two runs probably won’t win us a lot of games this year but it was enough today. We got some guys on base late in the game, we were just one hit away from opening it up. We struggled early hitting. I’ll chalk it up to early -season jitters, but we settled in some and got the hits when we needed it. We got just enough.
“I was happy with the way our pitching went today. To come out and basically pitch a shutout for the first game, not much you can complain about.”
The game started as a nice pitching dual between Handley’s Taylor Sandroni and Clarke’s David Betz, and though the two were able to keep their opposition off the board for the most part, both teams had their opportunities.
Sandroni (0-1) worked five innings for the Judges and was the hard-luck losing pitcher. He scattered six hits and allowed one run while striking out nine and walking just one. After retiring the side in order in the first, Sandroni got into a bit of a jam in the second, allowing back-to-back two-out singles to Cody Santmyer and Connor Liggett before striking out the next hitter to end the threat.
Another two-out rally for the Eagles in the third produced the game’s first run. Michael Fields started the rally with a base hit and then he came all the way around to score when senior catcher Keith Hummer drilled a double to the fence in right center. Hummer was thrown out at third to end the inning, but not before Fields scored to make it 1-0.
Betz on the other hand worked a predetermined three innings, allowing just three hits while striking out four and walking one. He allowed a runner in each of his first two innings but the third inning was the closest he came to any trouble.
Handley shortstop Malachi Hill led off with a single but was erased on a line-drive double play when Brian Thomas lined a shot to second. Andrew Lins then lined a double to the gap in right but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple, resulting in the most unusual three up, three down.
Clarke County (1-0) had the first two hitters reach base in the fourth and was looking to add to the lead but a caught stealing and a pair of Sandroni strikeouts ended another threat with no damage.
In the bottom of the fourth inning Clarke senior Ike Dofflemyer took over for Betz on the mound and didn’t miss a beat. Dofflemyer retired eight of the first nine hitters he faced before running into trouble in the bottom of the seventh.
Though the Eagles were able to load the bases with two outs in the sixth, they couldn’t add to the lead and the score remained 1-0 heading to the seventh.
That’s when, with one out, junior second baseman and leadoff hitter Evan Snapp put a charge into a fastball and drilled his first varsity home run over the left-field fence for an important insurance run and a 2-0 lead.
“I went up in my fourth at bat just thinking I’ve got to hit the ball,” Snapp said. “I just got a pitch to hit and hit it out. I had no idea where it even went. It felt good off the bad but I wasn’t sure. We had a couple scrimmages get cancelled so this is the first pitching we’ve seen off the mound — took a while to get used to it.”
Following Snapp’s blast the Eagles loaded the bases with the next three hitters and threatened to blow the game open, but again failed to come up with a key hit to produce any more runs and still held a two-run lead heading to the bottom of the seventh.
Handley (0-1) didn’t go quietly or easily in its final trip to the plate.
Dofflemyer retired the first two of the inning before Jake Funkhouser reached on an infield single and Sandroni drew a walk. Nick Dempsey then hit what appeared at first to be a game-ending ground ball but what started out as a tough play ended up in a bad throw to first, allowing pinch runner Christian Hoffman to score and put runners on second and third.
With the tying and winning runs in scoring position, Jack Pingley drew yet another walk to load the bases for the Judges, but like the Eagles they were unable to collect a big hit when they needed it. Dofflemyer was able to get a ground ball to end the game and preserve the win.
“I thought our team played a pretty good game. I thought it was a pretty clean game by both teams,” Simmons said. “I was very impressed with their team and very happy with the way our team played. One thing I’ll tell you is this team is never going to quit. Absolutely never going to quit, there’s too much charactor and too much pride to roll over and quit. It doesn’t matter if we’re winning, losing, or tied, they’re gonna come out and fight.
“They want to do well, they expect to do well and I don’t think there’s any reason why they won’t. You see a couple teams come out and play a clean baseball game all the way around like that is pretty impressive and I’m pretty happy.”
Clarke out-hit the Judges 10-4. Hummer, Betz, and Jarrett Sowder all collected two hits for the Eagles, with Hummer adding a double and an RBI. Lins was one of four Judges with a hit. He finished 1 for 2 with a double.