By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
It took Class 3A’s second-ranked Hokes Bluff High School only five innings to batter county neighbor Gaston High School on March 19, 12-0.
Eagle ace-hurler Tanner Shields pitched four innings, earning four strikeouts while allowing only one hit.
Gaston starter Allen Davidson started the game off on a positive note, striking out Bluff leadoff batter Dylan McKee.
Then the Bulldog defense fell apart, committing four errors and allowing four walks over the next two innings as the Eagles rounded the bases for eight runs. Brad Robertson scored the final run of the inning, tapping home plate after a passed ball allowed him to advance from third base.
In the bottom of the second inning, Hokes Bluff rightfielder Braydon Hawk connected for a three-run home run deep into the trees of right-center field. The Eagles led 8-0 at the end of two innings.
Gaston’s woes continued in the third inning.
Davidson got Robertson to popout, but walked McKee. The Bulldogs made three consecutives fielding errors, allowing the Eagles to load the bases. Steven Ford earned an RBI with a single and Shields followed with a double off the rightfield fence to score two runs. The Eagles led 12-0 at the end of three innings.
Offensively, Gaston mounted only one serious threat.
Jordan McCartney earned the Bulldogs’ sole hit of the game in the top of the second inning. Sean Love bunted McCartney to second base. Shields hit the following batter and walked the next, loading the bases with only one out.
Shields worked a 2-2 count to Jennings. Catcher Colton Shaw called for a breaking pitch.
“I wanted to throw a four-seam fastball by him on the third strike,” Shields said. “Coach [Jake] Ball signaled a curveball, and it kinda confused me. I shook my catcher off and he called for it again. I stepped off the rubber, looked in, and he called for it again.”
Shields delivered his best breaking pitch of the afternoon. Jennings, sitting on a fastball, struck out swinging. Shields forced the next batter to groundout to shortstop, ending Gaston’s only scoring threat.
Shields picked off a pair of would-be Gaston base stealers with a lightning-quick move to first base.
“My pickoff move works better out of the stretch. Most runners are looking at my feet, so I feel like I have a better chance at getting them over there out of the stretch.”
Shields earned his fourth victory of the year.
“I thought I pitched pretty good. I started out leaving everything a little high, so I started working from the stretch. I got my fastball back down where I wanted it and my curveball was working good.”
The junior hurler is confident in this year’s version of the Eagles, who are ranked second in the Class 3A polls.
“I think were in pretty shape so far. We lost a few guys off of last year’s team but we had guys with lots of varsity experience step up and fill those holes. I have a pretty good defense behind me that makes some good plays and they make me look pretty good out here. After three outs, we come in and hit the ball well.”
Hawk led the Eagles’ offensive attack with a homerun, three RBIs and two runs scored. Shields went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Chase Jackiel scored three runs, reaching base three times off of three errors. Jacob Ponder walked three times, stole a base and scored three runs.
Davidson was charged with the loss for Gaston (4-4).
Hokes Bluff improved its record to 10-1 on the season and will continue area play next week at Glencoe.