Fender throws no-no as Worth wins opener, celebrates 100th season at school's Pope Park

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER -- Worth County ushered in a new century of baseball Tuesday at Pope Park -- and the results couldn't have been more fitting for the celebration.

The Rams opened the 2010 season on the 100-year-old field, which Worth County historians say is the oldest continuously used baseball field in the state, with a 10-0 win against Turner County in five innings.

Add to it a no-hitter and a career-first homer for two of the Rams' seniors, and the night couldn't have gone any better.

"That's a pretty good start," Worth County coach Will Smith said of the season-opening win and beginning to Pope Field's second 100 years of play.

Senior southpaw Allen Fender, a Darton College signee, struck out 13 Rebels hitters and completed his first career no-hitter in just 79 pitches. Fender walked three straight batters, his only free passes of the night, on 12 straight pitches in the second inning to load the bases, but battled his way out of the jam by striking out the next two Turner County hitters.

"I had that rough spot," Fender said. "That stopped me from the perfect game."

Fender was just shy of his career-high 15 strikeout night last season against Dodge County, which he said was one of his most memorable nights during his time playing on Pope Field.

The Rams (1-0) picked up two runs off two Turner County errors in the first inning and then went up 4-0 in the third on senior Tyler Hembree's homer and Bryant Reddell's RBI single.

The long ball was the first ever for Hembree, who is all of 145 pounds "soakin' wet," he said.

"Never in Tee-ball, never in Pony League, never in practice," Smith said of Hembree's long ball surprise. "He's a senior and got a fastball count. He put a charge in it, too. It wasn't a freebee."

Worth blew the game open in the bottom of the fourth with six runs, the biggest blow coming on a bases-clearing double from sophomore Ryan Hickox, who finished 1-for-3 with three RBI.

Hembree, meanwhile, finished 2-for-2 with two RBI from his leadoff spot, while Reddell added two RBI as well.

The night in Sylvester began with a ceremony on Pope Field, where a host of former Rams' players gathered to celebrate the turning of a new century at the historic ball park. The oldest Worth County baseball player in attendance, 83-year-old Worthen Youngblood, threw out the first pitch, which was caught by his great grandson, current Rams sophomore left fielder Luke Powell.

Youngblood's fastball still had life and went right down the pipe for the first strike of the night. It was a good sign for the season opener.

"This ranks right up there amongst (the best memories at Pope Field)," said Smith, who enters his 10th season coaching in Sylvester. "We had the place packed (Tuesday)."

Hembree wouldn't even discuss the notion of one day replacing Pope Field, which is believed to have opened in 1910 and saw the boys from Sylvester play their first high school game in 1915 -- coincidentally enough, against Turner County.

"Great fans, great atmosphere," Hembree said as he glanced around the park. "It's a great place to play."

Worth next hosts Dodge County Thursday at 6 p.m.