Wildcats win season opener

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 23, 2007 - WILLS POINT - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats' gloves were a little leaky in the season opener on Thursday, but their bats bailed them out.

The Wildcats gave up four unearned runs and trailed by two runs heading into the final inning, but sent 11 batters to the plate in their six-run seventh to beat Athens, 10-6.

The win came in the opening round of the Wills Point tournament, so the Wildcats advanced in the winners' bracket to play Terrell at 4 p.m. Friday in Wills Point.

The Wildcats knocked out 10 hits, including five in their final inning, and were backed by a solid complete-game, 100-pitch performance from junior Brittan Diamond on the mound. Diamond gave up just two earned runs on five hits and one walk while fanning seven.

He also scored three runs and laced a lead-off double to right center to open the seventh inning.

SSHS head coach Jerrod Hammack didn't panic when Athens scored three unearned runs in the fifth to take a 6-4 lead. He expected the Wildcats to respond.

"That doesn't surprise me with this bunch. I saw it enough last year to almost expect it on a daily basis," he said of their comeback. "They just don't quit, they don't give up. They did not believe they were going to lose the game. They believed they could come back, and yet again we've done it."

After Diamond doubled to right center to open the seventh, Dalton Abner walked and Tyler Rhoades reached on a ball that skipped off the left fielder's glove, allowing Diamond to score. Rhoades had a pair of hits and three RBI.

Then, with one out, Clay Wilks tied the game with a sharp RBI single to left, and Jake North provided the go-ahead run with a single past the third baseman. Josh Dunn walked, then Ladarius Harrison blooped a run-scoring single into shallow center. Jeff Beck completed the Wildcats' scoring with a two-run single down the left field line.

Athens pitcher Brant Radcliff went the distance, but threw 30 pitches in the final inning to raise his pitch count to 126 in the game. He walked two and hit four batters while striking out six.

The Wildcats opened the game with a run in the first when Diamond reached on an error and courtesy runner Harrison scored on Rhoades single to the left field gap.

But, Athens took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning on their only two earned runs.

Sulphur Springs retook a 4-2 lead when Beck and Diamond were hit by consecutive pitches with two outs. Abner and Rhoades made Athens pay with back-to-back RBI doubles.

The Wildcats, though gave up the lead when Athens scored three unearned runs in the fifth, helped out by three SSHS errors.

"There is no excuse for the errors," Hammack said. "We were sitting back on some balls, kind of unsure of ourselves and letting the ball play us. We've got to get better because we work too much on defense to have played like that.

"We stress that every day. We don't hit until we get through with our defense, but we certainly didn't look like a very good defensive club today."

Fortunately, they did other things well, like hitting. Other than the fourth inning, the Wildcats had at least one baserunner in every frame.

Hammack said they have been stressing the importance of trying to put the ball in play in the middle of the field.

"We still can get better at that and at our two-strike hitting. But, we hit the ball well enough to win, put the ball in play and ran the bases pretty aggressively," he explained. "But, we've still got some room to improve certainly."

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