Worth beats a short-handed Westover team, 5-1, in a big Region 1-AAA baseball showdown on Tuesday at Paul Eames, where the Patriots were missing four starters who left town on spring break.
ALBANY — If you like baseball metaphors, Will Smith has got them.
He couldn’t resist one after his Worth County Rams beat Westover, 5-1, in a pivotal Region 1-AAA game Tuesday at Paul Eames Park.
“That was a big deal,’’ he said of the win. “It’s kind of like the difference between a 3-1 count and a 2-2 count. It changes the whole at-bat. This completely changes the region’’
While Smith was looking for metaphors on Tuesday, Westover coach Kevin Fretwell was looking for players.
Spring break hurt Fretwell’s Patriots as much — maybe more — than Worth County.
Westover had only 12 players show up for the game and was missing four starters who had left town for the beaches in Florida.
“I didn’t find out they were gone until (Monday),’’ Fretwell said. ‘They’ve gone to Florida for spring break. Yeah, it hurt us, but I’m not making any excuses. We had the talent to beat Worth County, and we just didn’t do it. Give Worth credit. They earned the win.’’
It was a big win for Worth, which improved to 4-1 in the Region 1-AAA race, just one game behind first-place Crisp County, which hasn’t lost a region game in two years. How big was it?
Ryan Hickox, who went the distance to get the win for the Rams, put it this way: “If we’re going to make a run at Crisp County for the region title, we have to win this game,’’ he said.
Hickox did his part. He didn’t allow an earned run and struck out six while not allowing a walk to improve to 4-1 for the season. It was the first game this year in which he didn’t walk a batter.
“He did a great job of hitting his spots and throwing strikes,’’ Smith said of his ace.
Hickox felt good before he ever took the mound.
“It was just there,’’ he said of his strong outing. “I just had a good day. I just came out throwing strikes.’’
Actually, he came out destroying Westover.
The Rams knew they wouldn’t get much because they were facing Westover’s ace Robert Daniel, who has led the state of Georgia in strikeouts the last two years. Hickox, who leads off for Worth, had a gutsy and savvy at-bat to start the game, fighting off pitch after pitch, working his way to a 10-pitch walk.
“Ryan set the tone,’’ Smith said. “That was a big at-bat. It was kind of hot and we wanted to make (Daniel) work. That kind of set the tone for us. That’s what we talked about, making him work, and Ryan’s at-bat really set the tone for the game.’’
The long at-bat highlighted a 31-pitch, 18-minute top of the first for Daniel, who gave up an RBI single to the No. 2 hitter Eli Reddell and a double to No. 3 hitter Brandon Weaver. Reddell scored on a ground-out by Cory Odom, and just like that Worth took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the first.
“That first at-bat really helped. When I can see my leadoff hitter get 10 pitches, it lets me see what’s coming,’’ Weaver said. “We got to see every pitch he threw. We (Reddell and Weaver) both hit fastballs that we were looking for.’’
The two early runs helped Worth on the road, too.
“It allowed us to settle in on defense and allows our pitcher to not have to be so fine,’’ Smith said. “He can afford to throw strikes and not have to nibble as much because he has a lead.’’
Fretwell was watching the same game in the top of the first.
“That first at-bat meant Robert was going to have a high pitch count,” he said. “Robert sets the tone for us. The kids feed off of him. That first inning set a tone we didn’t need.’’
Daniel gave up four runs over six innings on five hits. He struck out five, but he also walked five, and ran into trouble in the third when Reddell walked and went to second on a passed ball. Weaver singled up the middle and Reddell made a brilliant slide to avoid the tag at the plate on a bang-bang play that lifted Worth to a 3-0 lead.
“It was a good throw,’’ Reddell said. “I had to work to get in there.’’
Daniel struck out Odom, but Chance Mitchell delivered an RBI single to right to bring in Weaver for the 4-0 lead. Worth added an unearned run off of Evan Ethridge in the seventh. Jay Cunnningham, who singled and stole a couple of bases, scored the only run for Westover on an error in the third. The Patriots are now 5-9 for the season and in fourth place in the region with a 2-4 record.
“I’m real proud of the way my kids carried themselves the last two days, realizing we were short-handed,” Fretwell said. “The ones who left are going to have to earn their way back. They have lost their starting positions. But I am so proud of the way the kids who stayed hung in there and played.”
Worth is now 9-5 overall with aspirations of winning the region title. Worth, which suffered its only loss in the region last week at Crisp County, still has to face Cairo twice in the region, beginning with a big showdown in Sylvester Tuesday, and the Rams are looking forward to playing Crisp in Sylvester on April 11.
“We had to win this game to set up the Cairo game, and we have to beat Cairo to get ready for Crisp,’’ said Weaver, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two singles. “And we need to beat Cairo to set up the Crisp County game.’’
Reddell said he always likes to play against Cairo.
“It’s always a big game when we play Cairo,’’ he said. “There will be a big crowd, and it will be intense. And it matters. We had to make sure we got this one, and we did.’’
There are plenty of domino metaphors for that scenario, and if Worth stays hot, you can bet Smith will come up with a few.