EAST BEND - The Rams continued their recent run through the Mountain Valley Conference with back-to-back impressive victories over the conference’s top two teams.
“We’ve played well the past two games,” head coach Mike McCann explained. “We didn’t do anything special, we didn’t hit any longballs - well Dillon [Dobson] hit one against Wilkes Central, but it wasn’t like a grand slam or anything like that. It was just a good team effort. Everyone contributed, whether they were hitting, fielding or running bases. I’m just proud of them. To play two big games like this back-to-back, it says a lot about them.”
Battling the No. 1 team in the state in Wilkes Central, Starmount held on for a wild 8-6 victory Thursday night to hand the Eagles their first loss of the season.
The Rams jumped out to a 6-2 lead after three innings of play, but saw Central storm back in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extras.
Slugger Martin Koon cranked a grand slam in the final frame to knot the game at 6-6, nearly breaking Starmount’s spirit.
“When Martin Koon hit that big grand slam, first thing I did was watch my kids,” McCann explained. “There wasn’t any heads hanging or kicking dirt - they were just ready to play ball. Tanner [Mathis] was upset that he gave up the home run, but his teammates came in and got him two runs and Brett Pinnix came in and did a great job. They are playing good baseball right now.”
But the Rams responded and put two runs across in the top of the eighth to take a 8-6 advantage.
Brett Pinnix shut down the Eagles in the bottom of the inning to secure the thrilling upset victory.
Starmount backed that performance up with a convincing 5-0 win over cross-town rival Forbush behind senior Dillon Bray.
Bray dazzled on the mound, throwing a complete-game, two-hit shutout to pick up the victory. It was the second-straight shutout win for the senior and third in his last four starts.
“Dillon Bray is throwing good. He had a real outstanding performance against Elkin last week, but he hasn’t had a chance to bullpen this week to work on the little things.
Offensively, freshman Luke Shore paced the way with three hits, including manufacturing the Rams’ first run on a double and two wild pitches. Shore, who started the season on the JV team, has ignited Starmount’s offense batting in the two hole.
“He started at JV and we moved him up as a freshman, and he’s doing a good job,” he said. “He works hard and he’s meshed well with everybody else. You don’t say too much about a freshman because you blow their head up now and you have to deflate it when they’re a senior. He’s a good athlete though. He plays and works hard and has been accepted by the team, and that’s the important thing.”
In the fifth, Starmount put the game away on a wild, four-run double off the bat of Tanner Mathis.
After back-t0-back singles by Eugene Billips and Shore, Dobson was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Mathis followed with a two-RBI double to left-center. On the throw home, Dobson tried to race home before retreating back to third. But the senior and Mathis got tied up at third base together, drawing a throw from catcher Wesley Walker.
The throw went high into the outfield, allowing two more runs to score to give Starmount a convincing 5-0 advantage.
From there, Bray cruised to the complete-game victory. The Western Carolina-bound lefty struck out nine batters to preserve the victory, Starmount’s seventh-straight win.
Forbush Taylor Rutledge praised Bray, but also “called out” his own team.
“Bray is going to bring it; the kid is a good pitcher,” he said. “But I’m going to call us out - we haven’t scored runs in the two biggest conference games. It sort of says something about us. I don’t think we come to the plate ready to hit. I think whenever we face a pitcher who is challenging us, so far, we haven’t challenged them back. Plain and simple. We have a few spots we are going to fix.”
The Rams tighten the Mountain Valley Conference race with the two upset victories, as Starmount improved to 10-3 in the conference and 13-5 overall. Forbush still holds a one-game lead over the Rams at 11-2 and 13-4 overall.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.