WINGATE — Bald Eagle Area and Central have gotten used to splitting its season series over the years.
The Eagles win at their home field, and the Dragons do the same in Martinsburg. That’s why Bald Eagle Area coach Jim Gardner was optimistic his team could hand Central its first loss of the season heading into Tuesday’s game at Doc Etters Field.
“That was playing into my thinking coming into this game,” Gardner said, “this was our chance to knock them from the ranks of the undefeated because of that tradition.”
Bald Eagle Area saw that chance disappear in the first inning of an 11-6 loss to Central, which also beat the Eagles in the season opener in March. The Dragons (11-0) scored five runs before the Eagles (6-4) recorded an out and finished with six runs in the top of the first. Bald Eagle Area chipped away at the deficit, but never threatened despite seven errors by Central. Ethan Lewis pitched five innings to earn the win for the Dragons. Mike Mock, who pitched the final two innings, went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and Nick Hoenstine finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs to lead Central.
Bryan Greene went 2-for-3 and scored four runs, and Ryan Dyke went 2-for-4 with two RBIs to power the Bald Eagle Area offense. Eagles starting pitcher Jeff Bennett threw four innings, limiting Central to one run after the six-run first.
“We just couldn't seem to get an out there in the first inning,” Gardner said. “Everything they hit found a hole.”
After Central’s Austin Cunningham led off with a walk, the Dragons strung together four consecutive singles to take a 3-0 lead. Hoenstine then doubled to center field to drive in another run.
Bald Eagle Area saw Central move ahead 5-0 on an error. The Eagles still hadn’t recorded an out. And frustration had replaced any optimism Gardner and the Eagles had going into the game.
The Dragons added another run by the end of the inning and appeared well on their way to their 11th straight win. But Central coach A.J. Hoenstine reminded his team to stay focused.
“We told our kids right away, they'll battle back and they did,” Hoenstine said. “We would have liked to put the game away in the second and third and couldn't. Their pitcher settled in a little bit. We knew they'd battle us to the end.”
Bald Eagle Area reponded in the bottom of the first.
Bryan Greene tripled, and Dyke drilled a single past the third baseman to cut the deficit to 6-1.
Greene and Dyke combined to bring the Eagles within four runs in the third inning. This time, Greene walked and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Lewis before Dyke lined a double into right-center field to drive him home.
Central built an 11-2 lead after striking for four runs in the fifth. But after the Eagles responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, Hoenstine brought in his ace, Mock, to close it out.
Though Central held a comfortable 11-4 lead, Hoenstine wanted to make sure his team left Wingate with a win.
“I brought Mock in there at the end, who we're probably not going to be able to throw him for a day or two, but I wanted to get this win,” Hoenstine said. “We'll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. But no lead's safe here.”
With Mock on the mound, though, any chance of an Eagles’ comeback was slim.
Mock, a hard-throwing right-hander, had yet to allow a run in 21 innings coming into Tuesday. After he pitched a scoreless sixth, Bald Eagle Area broke through in the seventh. The Eagles scored two runs and had the bases loaded with two outs before Tyler Schall flew out to right field.
Though Bald Eagle Area didn’t make it easy on Central, the first inning proved to be the difference.
“We just spotted them too much,” Gardner said. “Again, we battled well but against a good team, it was just too much ground to make up.”