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In the midst of three 17th District games in three days, the North Hardin Trojans needed a big effort from their starting pitcher – especially considering they used four pitchers Tuesday.
Lance Baker delivered for them Wednesday against the visiting John Hardin Bulldogs.
One day after throwing 11 pitches and 2/3 of an inning, Baker was masterful in striking out 10 in a complete game to lead the Trojans to a 4-1 win at James R. Aldridge Field.
“My arm was feeling pretty good – just keeping it babied,” Baker said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
“I just went along with the game. I try to stay in the moment.”
Baker said he was trying to keep the ball down and let his defense work, but it was his timely strikeouts that kept the Bulldogs at bay.
He stranded two runners in the fifth inning with a punchout, and after John Hardin brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the seventh, Baker painted the inside corner with a fastball to end the game.
“He pitched a heck of a game for us,” said his catcher, senior Graham Mathews. “He was hitting all his spots and his curveball was working. It was just big for him to come out like that and get us a big district win.”
John Hardin (11-11, 2-4 district) had 11 hits to just four for North Hardin (14-8, 3-2), but as was the case against Central Hardin on April 10, the hitting advantage didn’t add up to a victory.
“It’s very frustrating, but all you can do is keep working on it, try to maximize the number of hits you get,” said John Hardin coach Greg Gumm. “When you get that many hits, you feel like you should have several runs, but we didn’t. That’s part of (the game).”
Though the Trojans didn’t have many hits, they made them count.
Sophomore Alec Taylor got hit by a pitch to lead off the third inning and moved to third on Baker’s sacrifice bunt. Sophomore A.J. Morales reached on an error to plate Taylor and two batters later, junior Markus Bell laced a single up the middle to drive in Morales.
North Hardin added to the lead in the fourth when junior Blake Yates led off with a walk, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. Taylor drove him in with a single to left field before coming around three batters later on Mathews’ single.
Mathews failed to drive in a run in an early at-bat, but, like Bell, was able to redeem himself.
“You always get a next at-bat,” Mathews said. “If you don’t get a hit or drive in the run one at-bat, you always get another one. That’s what I did. I just tried to stay focused on my next at-bat and I did. It worked out for me.”
Baker needed only 17 pitches to get through two innings but ran into trouble in the third, loading the bases after a walk and hit batter with two outs, but he induced a groundout to end the threat.
He worked around junior Dajour Strong’s leadoff double in the fourth before the Bulldogs finally broke through in the fifth. Senior Dale Gumm (2-for-3) reached on an infield single with two outs and after advancing to third on senior Andrew Kirkland’s double, he scored on a wild pitch.
Baker benefitted from some exceptional defense in the sixth. Morales tracked down Bulldogs eighth-grader Diante Ditto’s line drive to center for the second out before an alert play from Yates saved the Trojans a run.
With Ryan Gann on first base, freshman Darian Pope (2-for-3) doubled to left, but Yates hustled from his position at second base to back up the relay into the infield near third base. He barehanded the ball and fired to Mathews to nail Gann at the plate.
“It makes me want to throw more strikes and keep them in the game,” Baker said of the defense backing him up. “I love it.”
Kirkland (2-for-3), who started and gave up two earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, singled with two outs in the seventh, and sophomore Landen Sisk (2-for-3) followed suit with another single. But Baker delivered the last of his 108 pitches in the perfect spot to end the game.
It was a much-needed pickup for the Trojans, who suffered a 4-1 setback to Central Hardin on Tuesday.
“I was really glad to see how we responded after last night,” said North Hardin coach Ace Adcock. “We talked about coming into today with competitiveness and being able to come out the next day. Sometimes you’re a little tired and it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but we came out ready to play today on both sides of the ball.”
NORTH HARDIN 4, JOHN HARDIN 1
R H E
John Hardin 000 010 0 111 3
North Hardin 002 200 x 4 4 0
Andrew Kirkland, Darian Pope (5) and Dale Gumm. Lance Baker and Graham Mathews. WP: Baker. LP: Kirkland. 2B: Dajour Strong (JH), Pope (JH).
UP NEXT: North Hardin hosts Fort Knox at 5:30 p.m. today. John Hardin plays at Campbellsville at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or email@example.com.