North Hopkins leaves Overton stranded in Game 1

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

May 9, 2007 - GILMER - When Overton loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning on Tuesday, the North Hopkins Panthers didn't panic.

That served the Panthers well in the Class A, area round playoff game, because Overton made a habit of getting players on base. Getting them home, though, was a different story.

NH ace Bradley Ball worked out of trouble in almost every inning to lead the Panthers to a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-3 series at Gilmer High School. Game 2 is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Gilmer, with Game 3 to follow if necessary.

Overton stranded nine runners on base, including five in scoring position. The Mustangs left the bases full in the first and had three runners on base in the third before a bizarre play ended the inning.

"These guys have done it all year in district," said NH head coach Brian Bymaster. "The games over Cumby and Saltillo were close ones and extra inning games, and these guys have always found a way to get things done."

In the third, Overton scored its first run as Xavier Gardner walked and eventually came around to score. He was followed by a single by Chris Harmon, a walk to Garrett Williamson and a single by Scott Osbourn to load the bases with one out.

But, Ball struck out Josh Stuart on three pitches, and after the final pitch, NH catcher Lorenzo Rivera rolled the ball back to the mound as the Panthers started walking off the field. The catch: there were only two outs.

Overton's Harmon broke home from third as the Panthers were leaving the field, but NH freshman second baseman Jy'Darius Hawkins ran up, barehanded the ball and threw home in one motion as Rivera raced back to block the plate. Rivera made the catch and applied the tag to Harmon to end the inning and preserve the Panthers' 3-1 lead.

"They're confident in what they can do," Bymaster said. "Everybody's going to make mistakes, and they realize that."

Ball worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, and helped the Panthers plate three runs in the bottom half of the inning.

Dustin Clements led off the Panthers' inning with a single and Jeremy Dixon laced a double to left field. Ball then hit a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Panthers a 1-0 advantage. After Rickey Willis walked, things got crazy again.

Overton catcher Austin Rhodes tried to pick Willis off first with two outs, but the ball sailed into right field, allowing Dixon to score from second and putting Willis on third. The next pitch, Mustang pitcher Telvin Darden threw a wild pitch, scoring Willis to make the score 3-0.

North Hopkins got its final run in the third as Clements walked, stole second and scored on Dixon's single to right center. Dixon went 2-for-3 with the game's only extra-base hit.

Ball threw a complete-game, striking out six and allowing five hits and five walks - two of them intentional ones to Darden, the Mustang's clean-up hitter.

The Panthers committed four errors, two of them coming in the first inning. Bymaster attributed some of that to nerves since the Panthers had a first-round bye and were in their first playoff game.

"These guys were nervous. We didn't have to play a bi-district game to get here, and getting that bye, I felt, was a disadvantage for us because we didn't get some games behind us," he said. "I was proud of them stepping up here and getting it done. Hopefully, Saturday, we'll do it again."

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