Pinecrest Academy’s young players are learning that baseball teams can ill afford many self-inflicted wounds over the course of a game.
Paladins pitchers issued nine walks and the defense committed six errors that contributed to a 9-6 loss to Commerce on Tuesday at Fathers Field.
Commerce (7-10, 4-7 Region 8A-A) built a 9-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth and turned the game over to its bullpen, which allowed the Paladins (4-10, 3-7) to narrow the gap in the final innings.
"We didn’t hit the ball when we needed to hit it, we didn’t catch it defensively, we didn’t throw strikes when we needed to throw strikes," Pinecrest head coach Daniel Stockdale said.
"Altogether, we just weren’t good today, it’s as simple as that."
Commerce took a 5-1 lead into the top of the fifth and blew the game open after Pinecrest reliever Matthew Walters, who closed out the fourth inning, issued walks that put two runners on with nobody out. Nick Barwick (3 IP, 1 K, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB) came on in relief following the second walk but allowed run-scoring singles by Drew Whitfield (2-for-4, RBI, 3 RS) and Keenan Lord (2-for-5, RBI, 3 RS), and Pinecrest’s defense followed both hits with errors that allowed two more runs to score.
Commerce starting pitcher Chandler Rogers (4 IP, 7 K, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB) walked the first batter he faced in the bottom of the frame and was lifted for freshman Trey Parr, who walked two batters and hit two others to force in a pair of runs for Pinecrest. Andres Perez tacked on another run with a sacrifice fly off reliever Daniel Streetman (2 2/3 IP, 2 K, 1 ER, 3 H) and Matthew Howell (2-for-3, 2 RBI) added an RBI single to narrow the gap to 9-5.
"[Commerce] put in a freshman kid [Parr] that they wanted to get some work. He gave us an opportunity and that’s when the game changed a little bit," Stockdale said. "We were able to get a few walks, hit the ball hard, and [reliever] Nick Barwick just came in an threw strikes for us in the last few innings, and we were able to claw back in it.
"That’s what I’m proud about, but altogether we didn’t play a good baseball game."
Streetman retired the next five batters in a row before the Paladins made one last push to stay alive with two outs in the seventh. Josh Oshinski (2-for-3, RBI, 2 RS) doubled and scored on a single by Walters (2-for-3, 2 RBI, RS), but Perez flied out to deep left to end the game.
Paladins freshman left-hander Todd Mahaffey (3 2/3 IP, 2 K, 4 ER, 5 H, 4 BB) started the game and settled down after a shaky first inning, but not before the Tigers built a solid lead. First baseman Robert Hayes (3-for-5, 2 RBI, 1 RS) drove in two runs with a first inning double and later scored on a wild pitch to put Commerce on top 3-0.
The Tigers tacked on a run in the second inning on a double steal and another in the fourth on an RBI single by Hayes, and the latter ended Mahaffey’s day on the mound.
Pinecrest got its first run in the bottom of the fourth on a single by Howell, but the Paladins missed an opportunity to add another when Conner Ettmuller was picked off at third as Howell stole second. Jake Mangan followed with a hard liner back to Rogers that the pitcher snared out of the air to prevent a hit and end the inning.
The Paladins played without shortstop/pitcher Anthony Carco, who has been out since injuring his shoulder cross-training during spring break. The junior will likely miss the remainder of the season.
The loss of Carco leaves a sizeable void on a 14-player Pinecrest roster that includes eight freshmen.
"Losing Anthony is a tough loss for our ballclub considering that we’re so young," Stockdale said.
"Anthony Carco is our best player. He’s one of the better players in the state, nominated for the Junior-Senior All-Star Game for the state of Georgia. He’s that kid that comes up with big hits when we need it."
Pinecrest is currently ranked No. 22 in the GHSA Class A Private Power Rankings with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The top 16 teams qualify for the state playoffs.
"The power rankings, that’s a huge change, especially when you look at our division right now," Stockdale said. "We are in third place on our side of the region, which, in years past, could put us in the playoffs if we hold what we have.
"We’ve got to help ourselves. We’ve got some winnable games coming up."