Westover ace Robert Daniel struck out 14 on Tuesday as the Patriots avenged an earlier season loss to region rival Worth County.
SYLVESTER — Robert Daniel’s dad was talking to Worth County baseball coach Will Smith right after Daniel and his Westover teammates beat Worth, 4-3, on Tuesday.
Daniel’s dad was joking about how Worth wouldn’t have to see his son again because Robert is a senior.
“Thank God,’’ Smith said.
He meant it.
Daniel picked up Westover and carried the Patriots right back into the Region 1-AAA race with a brilliant four-hitter, striking out 14 along the way, including a hold-your-breath strikeout to end the game.
“I had 100 percent confidence in Robert in the seventh inning,’’ Westover coach Kevin Fretwell said.
Daniel then added: “It was nerve-racking in the seventh.’’
Westover’s fans were on their feet in the seventh when Worth’s Andrew Fellows made his way to third base on a dropped third strike, passed ball and deep fly to center. That’s where Fellows was standing with two outs when Brandon Weaver, one of the top hitters in the region hitting .460, came to the plate.
But that’s where this one ended. Daniel started Weaver off with heat — fastballs in the upper 80s — and after getting ahead 0-2, he slipped to a 2-2 count, just missing twice, before slipping a curveball over the outside part of the plate to get Weaver looking.
“He comes through for us all the time,’’ Smith said of his catcher and top run producer. “But you can’t expect him to come through every time.’’
Especially against Daniel, who has led the state in strikeouts for the past two years. He now has 99 K’s for the season, but none bigger than the one against Weaver.
“I had confidence in my stuff,’’ Daniel said. “When (Weaver) came to bat with the runner at third, I just decided to go right after him. I went right after him with fastballs, and then threw him a curveball, and he took it.’’
That curveball gave the Patriots new life in the region race. They are now 7-4 with one region game left against second-place Cairo on the road next Friday. But the win on Tuesday means Westover is mathematically alive to finish as high as second in the region. The Patriots need help to get there, but they had to win Tuesday to have any hope of finishing higher than fourth.
“This was a huge win,’’ Fretwell said. “It was a must-win for us. If we lost we would have ended up in fourth and most likely played top-seeded West Laurens (ranked ninth in the state poll) in the first round of the playoffs.’’
Worth slipped to 6-3 in the race, but the Rams have two more games against Cairo, beginning today in Slyvester. They could still finish in second if they beat Cairo twice, but they could have clinched no worse than third place with a win on Tuesday.
Cairo (7-1) still has to play unbeaten Crisp County (8-0 in the region and 19-0 overall and ranked No. 3 in the state) as well as Worth and Westover, so the door is open in what could be a wild finish.
That’s what the seventh inning meant to the Patriots.
“It was crunch time in the seventh, and we had to put our hopes with Robert. We knew he would come through,’’ said Ricardo Pugh, who scored a run in the first and doubled home a run in the fourth to give Westover a 4-1 lead.
“Robert pretty much just put the team on his back,’’ Fretwell said. “It was another typical game for him. The most impressive thing was the way Robert kept his composure and battled back, and the way the team never got down and fought back after some calls went against us.’’
Westover was avenging an earlier loss to Worth when the Patriots were missing four starters, who were out of town on spring break. No one wanted to talk about the spring break loss on Tuesday, and Westover let the bats do the talking early, scoring three runs in the first.
Josh Black led off with a single and Pugh walked to start the rally. Tanner Mitchum, a freshman, had an RBI single, Nick Lane drove in a run with a groundout and Daniel delivered a two-out RBI single to give the Pats a 3-0 lead.
“You get behind 3-0 to Robert, and they don’t have to do much of anything else,’’ Smith said. “I knew against him we had to battle. He’s a quality pitcher, and he shows a lot of class. We always get up to play him, and he always gets up to play us.’’
Worth scored in the third when Weaver’s sacrifice fly to deep center brought home Fellows, who had singled, stolen second and advanced to third on Ryan Hickox’s single.
The Rams got two more in the fifth on a controversial two-run double by Corey Odom, whose flare down the left field line appeared to drop in foul ground. It was ruled a fair ball and closed the score to 4-3, despite an argument from Fretwell, who was livid over the call.
Then Fretwell just gave the ball to Daniel, who struck out six of the final eight batters without giving up a hit.
BACONTON 12, TERRELL COUNTY 2: William Sullivan improved to 9-0 on the mound Tuesday, allowing just four hits and striking out 10 against the Greenwave.
Sullivan was also 3-for-4 with two doubles to lead Baconton at the plate, while Brock Pinson and Zack Jones each had two hits.
The Blazers, who also defeated Monroe on Monday behind relief pitcher Kyle Parks’ first career win, are 15-5 and play again Thursday at Miller County.
PERRY — Ethan Shellhaas shot a 75 and Hunter Brooks fired a 79 Tuesday to lead Deerfield-Windsor to victory in a four-way meet at Houston Lake Country Club in Perry.
The Knights shot a 315 to beat Stratford (316), Westfield (336) and Southland (402). Southland was led by Clay Oxford, who carded an 85.