Patriots pound Rams, shake up 1-AAA race

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- It's about 22 miles from Sylvester to Albany.

Sure, it is.

Just don't tell the kids from Westover, the ones who lost a bitter one-run game to Worth County two weeks ago on a balk. Just don't mention it. They know it's much, much farther.

"It seemed a lot longer on the bus ride home (after that loss). It felt like forever,'' Westover ace Robert Daniel said.

Well, forever ended Tuesday -- ended right there at Paul Eames Park, ended in a 12-2, five-inning win with some smiles and handshakes, and shouts in the dugout. The kind of shouts that may just be loud enough to hear in the postseason.

That's where Westover's baseball team is headed, and the Patriots may just storm their way right into them.

They stormed off the field Tuesday after beating the Rams, not only avenging that one-run loss but shaking up the Region 1-AAA race.

"We've got a chance to finish in second now,'' Westover coach Kevin Fretwell said after the big win. "We have the tiebreaker against Worth. It's there, second place is there.''

The Patriots are now 6-4 and Worth is 5-4 in the region race, but because of the lopsided win, Westover would finish ahead of Worth.

And Westover can still leap-frog second-place Cairo (7-2), because the Syrupmakers still have to face unbeaten Crisp County and then finish the season at Paul Eames next Friday against Westover. If Cairo loses twice, Westover could finish in second place with wins against Americus-Sumter and Cairo next week.

"We can do it if we play like we did (Tuedsat),'' said Fretwell, whose kids are now 13-4 for the season. "Our bats all woke up (Tuesday). When we're off (at the plate), we're off. But everybody was on (in this game).''

They don't need much when Daniel pitches. He struck out seven, walked two and gave up just two hits to improve to 5-1, and now has 88 strikeouts in just 43 innings.

"He's good. He's a real good pitcher,'' Worth coach Will Smith said. "You can't spot him four runs and expect to win.''

It was a long afternoon for Worth, which made four errors and seemed to open up the door with each mistake.

"You make errors and you lose,'' Smith said. "The bottom line is if you can't play defense behind your pitcher, you're going to lose. That's what is happening to us now. We've got to make plays in the field. We've got time to turn it around.''

The victim was starter Corey Odom, who gave up six runs on six hits and one walk over four innings, but only two of the runs were earned.

Daniel gave up only one earned run, and he also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk. He scored on James Langston's sacrifice fly in the first, and scored again in Westover's seven-run fifth when Nick Lane was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

"We really wanted to beat them,'' Daniel said. "It was heartbreaking when we lost to them. We led the whole game an then lost it on a balk. It was so quiet on the bus on the way home you could hear a pin drop. I was thinking about this game (all day), because of the way we lost to them, we needed to show them we could beat them.''

Shortstop and leadoff hitter Rick Pugh, who came back from an ankle injury to set the tone all day for Westover, felt the same way.

"We needed this win to redeem ourselves,'' said Pugh, who led off the bottom of the first with a double and never slowed down. He went 3-for-3 with a walk an scored twice and drove in a run. "It was hard to watch my team lose that game (at Worth).''

Westover rapped out nine hits, made plays in the field and erupted for seven runs to put this one away in the fifth. Langston, who drove in three runs, had a single to open the inning and a bases-loaded double. Josh Black doubled and had a two-run single in the fifth.

Second baseman Michael Green made a couple of stellar plays in the field, singled in a run in the second, walked twice and scored twice. Worth had an RBI single from Ryan Hickox and a sacrifice fly from Eli Reddell.

It was the kind of game that could turn the season around for Westover.

"We want second place,'' Daniel said. "We're not playing to finish in fourth.''