By Caleb Bailey, Staff Writer
The Armstrong Pirates hosted Peach Belt Conference opponent North Georgia for a three-game series this past weekend. On Friday, one Pirate put his name into the history books forever.
Friday’s game went back-and-forth for the first three innings as Ethan Bader led his team on the mound. The Pirates broke the 0-0 tie in the fourth inning when Matt Wisniewski doubled, bringing home Ryan Patterson. In the fifth, RJ Dennard cracked his eighth home run of the season, bringing home Tyler Avera and Cody Sherlin in the process. Zach Lance later brought home Patterson with a single to right field. After a sacrifice fly in the sixth by Clayton Miller, the Pirates led 6-0.
In the seventh inning, the game stopped for just a moment to recognize a historic moment. Bader had already tied Armstrong’s all-time strikeout record set by Chuck Christopher earlier in the game and with his fourth strikeout of the game in the top of the seventh, Bader brought his career total to 245 and put his name in the history books.
“It’s a great thing to do,” Bader said on his record. “I’m proud of my team. I’m proud I could do it and I’m just proud I was here at Armstrong long enough to set a record.”
Bader finished the game with five strikeouts, five hits and one earned run in his seventh win of the year. The win brings his career-win total to 27, just two shy of Ricky Meeks’ record of 29. Armstrong won the first game 8-1.
The Pirates and Nighthawks took the field for a doubleheader on Saturday and the scoring got going early as North Georgia had a 1-0 lead going into the bottom half of the first inning. The Pirates answered quickly as both Miller and Avera got on base and Patterson brought both men home with a single to right field. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Lance cracked a shot to the short stop and an attempted double fell short as the throw to first was just too late, allowing Miller to score from third and giving Lance an RBI in the process.
With a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, Dalton Johnson came up to the plate knowing he had to get some insurance on the board for his team. He did just that with a triple to center field, bringing home both Joey Lupus and Patterson to give the Pirates the eventual final score of 5-1.
The second game started very similarly to the first for the Pirates when Dennard brought home Avera on a single up the middle and Patterson followed him up with a double to left field, bringing home two and giving the Pirates a 3-0 early advantage.
That advantage soon disappeared when Tremayne Toorie of North Georgia, who had been flirting with the left field wall all afternoon, blasted a solo home run, breaking Justin Adkins’ no-hitter. The tide started to change back in the Pirates’ favor when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the third. Two straight walks made the score 5-1 and Johnson reached on fielder’s choice to the shortstop, bringing home Lance and making the score 6-1.
The Nighthawks would not say no, however, and Andrew Gordon proved that as he smashed a three run home-run over the left field wall and onto the soccer field. The Nighthawks brought home another run in the sixth to cut the Pirates’ lead from five to one in just two innings.
Miller stepped up for his team and scored two with an RBI single and Johnson answered his teammate with an RBI single of his own in the bottom of the seventh. The Pirates went on to win the game 9-7.
The Pirates (19-14, 10-11) now have a four-game win streak going and look to keep it up as they hunt for a playoff spot.
“We lost six in a row, and that was really a reality check for us,” Johnson said, who finished the day with four RBIs for his team. “We are a team that can keep winning when we get hot. We have the talent to stay hot and we just have to keep rolling.”
With the streak still in place, Coach Culberson talked about what this does for his team’s confidence: “Breaking a losing streak with a quality win gives any team a big boost. We feel like we can win against any team, especially against a quality opponent like North Georgia.”
Nathan Ward improved to 2-0 with four and two-thirds of relief pitching and allowed three runs off of four hits. He got into a jam in the top of the final inning in the second game on Saturday, but was able to get out of it with two straight ground-outs. Ward knew he had to keep his composure.
“It’s really all about practice,” Ward said. “We try to simulate those situations every day, and we have great coaching that I am thankful for. They tell us exactly what we need to do to win.”
Armstrong returns home to play a doubleheader against Benedict College on April 16.