By Caleb Bailey, Staff Writer
The Armstrong Pirates baseball team put their seven-game win streak on the line this past weekend as they hosted the No. 24-ranked UNC-Pembroke Braves. The Pirates first honored their four seniors before the start of the game as it was Senior Day at Pirate Field. Dalton Johnson, Ethan Bader, Clayton Miller and Mitchell Dolan were the four seniors recognized as their families joined them on the field. All four shared their experiences and memories.
“Senior Day was a memory I’ll always remember,” Johnson said. “Our coaches and teammates made it special for us and it was the first time my parents were able to see me play here at Armstrong.”
“My time here at Armstrong has been great,” shared Bader. “I have made lots of great memories and met many great people along the way. Looking back, it all seems like just yesterday when I transferred here, but I am happy to say my time here is almost up. Armstrong has changed me in many ways for the better and I appreciate all the opportunities I was given during my time here.”
“During my four-year tenure as an athlete at Armstrong I have had the luxury of making many friendships with several teammates,” mentioned Miller. “Every one of them has taught me a lot about myself, much more than I could have ever anticipated. Above all, I will always have the utmost regards for the memories and learning experiences I have encountered during the season and off-seasons while at practices, games, or outside of baseball in general with my team.”
“I’ve had a great time at Armstrong for my two years here,” Dolan said. “I’ve made some lifelong friends from the team and a lot of good memories with them. Being a senior is bittersweet. I will miss being out on the field every day with my teammates, going on road trips, and just clowning around with them. I can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for all of us.”
After all the pre-game ceremonies were concluded, the fans were ready to get to some baseball. It was a defensive slugfest as there were only two hits recorded between the two teams in the first three innings. That changed for the Braves as Dalton Knight brought home two Braves with an RBI double in the top of the fourth.
Miller followed that up with a lead-off home run in the bottom half of the inning. He once again came through in the sixth inning, cracking a single to right field and scoring Cody Sherlin to tie the game at two. The Pirates were able to load the bases in the eighth inning and they took the lead after a throwing error allowed Sherlin to cross home plate. Joey Lupus smacked a sacrifice RBI to third base, bringing home RJ Dennard. Matt Wisniewski loaded the bases again with a walk, and then Johnson came up to the plate. He made history for himself as he blasted a grand slam to right field, the first for the Pirates all season and the first for Johnson in his career. The shot made the score 9-2, which held as the Pirates won their eighth straight game.
Ryan Good took the win with a complete game, three hit performance, that put him at 6-3 for the year.
The Pirates and Braves took the field on Sunday for a doubleheader to close out the three-game series. The day started off much like Saturday did for the Pirates as a late game surge put another notch in the win column.
The Braves got on the board first with a pair of RBI singles in the second inning. It took the Pirates four more innings to get their bats going.
Wisniewski homered to right field and Johnson was able to reach second on a throwing error on a bunt. The error allowed Lupus to cross home plate and tie the game. Both Tyler Avera and Dennard recorded RBI doubles in the inning to put the home team ahead 4-2.
The Pirates added some insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning as Avera brought home Sherlin with an RBI single and Dennard crushed a three-run home run, his ninth of the year, to make the final score 8-2.
Bader took the win to bring his season total to nine and tie the Armstrong all-time record of 29.
The final game of the series did not go the way the Pirates had planned. The Braves jumped onto the home team early, recording three hits and four runs in the top of the first inning. Armstrong answered the early deficit with an RBI double off the bat of Ryan Patterson.
Dennard homered in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the Pirates were never able to recover from the early deficit. The Braves added on three more runs in the game and took the third game by a final of 7-2.
“We snapped a nine-game win streak, but we won another big series,” Johnson said after the game. “The team is really coming together at the right time.”
The Pirates (24-15, 15-12) next play a crucial Peach Belt series against the No. 2-ranked team in the country, Lander University. They return home for their final series of the year against Belmont Abbey next weekend.