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Dogs leave no Grey area in 2-1 win

CHS knocks off nationally ranked A.C. Flora, 2-1

Posted: April 5, 2014 12:18 p.m.
Updated: April 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Due to a traffic tie-up on Interstate 20, A.C. Flora arrived late for Friday’s game against Camden at American Legion Park, thereby delaying the start.
The visiting Falcons left town early as a throwing error on a Ross Hough grounder gave the Bulldogs a walk-off 2-1 victory over the two-time defending AAA state champions and a team which Collegiate Baseball magazine had ranked as the nation’s fifth-best team coming into the 2014 season.
More importantly, however, the win thrust the hosts right back into the Region 4-AAA title picture as Denny Beckley’s squad improved to 4-2 in conference play and 6-5 overall heading into a huge three-game week, against all league foes.Tonight, the Dogs go to River Bluff before Dreher comes to town for a Wednesday game followed by a trip to Westwood on Thursday.
In handing Andy Hallett’s squad their first loss in 12 outings and playing before a large crowd, Camden erased the sour taste still lingering in its collective mouth after Flora scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth to rally from a 4-1 deficit in a 6-4 season-opening victory in Forest Acres on March 11.
Providing the mouthwash on a warm, pollen-filled evening was Bulldog senior Grey Hoke. The 6-foot-3 lefty allowed the state’s top-ranked AAA team just three hits in a complete game effort with just two of those leaving the infield in a dominating effort in which he fanned six batters while walking a pair and hitting one.
Hoke’s lone mistake came with one out in the top of the third as USC signee and Falcon shortstop Madison Stokes lined a 3-1 curveball for a solo home run to left center. Later, with his left arm wrapped up in ice after his performance, Hoke was able to shrug off the long ball.
“Who swings at a 3-1 curveball?” he said with smile.
At the time, that was the night’s first run and was the visitors’ first hit on a night in which they did not get many. For Hoke, this was also a redemptive game after he was roughed up in his previous start in a loss to Chapin one week earlier.
“Number one,” said Beckley in talking about Hoke’s performance, “Grey has a tremendous amount of pride. He was very, very disappointed with himself after what he did at Chapin. He felt like he had to prove himself tonight.
“He’s definitely a fighter and, he showed that several times tonight. He has good stuff but the thing I really like about him is that he’s become a very good pitcher. His composure and poise were tremendous tonight.”
Having thrown 80-plus pitches in seven innings, Hoke may have had another inning left in him. Thanks to his offense and a Flora miscue in the field, it will never be known if Hoke would have toed the rubber to start the eighth.
The top of the seventh started with a disputed call when Banks Cromer was hit while swinging, only to be given first base despite Beckley’s protesting to the plate umpire to get help from his colleague on the bases. Cromer moved to second on a bunt and with two outs and first base open, Beckley issued Stokes a free pass. A ground ball out closed the top half of the seventh.
“He said he didn’t (swing),” Beckley said of his conversation with the plate umpire on Cromer’s at-bat. “I was really surprised that he missed that one. I know the umpire at first base had a bad angle on the play but anyway …”
With one gone in the bottom of the seventh, Camden junior shortstop Cole Irick sent a Donald Gillespie fastball to left field for a single. Beckley then called for a steal as Irick easily beat Josh Hernandez’s throw to second. Ross Hough followed by hitting a chopper to Stokes, who charged the ball only to see his throw to first base sail to the left of Cromer as Irick took third and never stopped until crossing the plate to end the game.
The decision to send Irick on the stolen base came from not only from Irick’s speed, but also because when Camden first saw Gillespie in the season opener, Beckley remembered something about the Falcons’ junior right-hander.
“Cole is a great base runner,” Beckley said of getting Irick into scoring position. “Gillespie was really slow to the plate over at their place. He’s tweaked (his delivery) it; they’re smart and they were going with the slide step with him.
“I think we surprised them … what do we have to lose? In a situation like that, we want to try and be aggressive. We had to make a call and we went with it. Luckily, it went our way.”
After Flora stranded runners on the corners in the first, the Dogs’ opened their half of the frame with Darius Smith lining a double down the left field line off Falcon starter Alexander Jenkins. He went to third on a wild pitch before Irick followed with a walk and then stole second as the hosts had men on second and third with no outs.
Jenkins would get himself out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending ground out as Camden missed its first scoring chance. An inning later, Camden left men on first and second without scoring a run.
Beckley said as the game went on, he started wondering whether his team would live to regret not having been able to push a run across in the first frame, especially.
“What a weird inning,” he said of the first. “It was a situation where we were thinking, ‘Uh-oh. We’re going to give up a run here.’ Then, it was the same thing with us in the bottom of the first.
“As the game went on, I kept looking back at it. At the time, I felt like we were getting some good at-bats and getting some good swings on (Jenkins.)  I thought we were going to get some good opportunities. It was one of those weird innings.”
The squandered chances loomed even larger after Stokes’ blast broke the scoreless tie. Camden evened things with a run in the bottom of the fourth while chasing Jenkins from the box in the process.
With two gone and none on, Nick Tucker lined a single to left before the CHS catcher was lifted in favor of courtesy runner Zach Boykin. Will Abbott then cracked a double to the gap in right center as Boykin was held at third. Hallett then went to Franklin Chapman and the sidewinder let fly with a pitch which got past Hernandez as Boykin sprinted home with the game-tying run.
A half-inning later, Hoke worked himself out of trouble as the guests left the bags packed with Hoke getting Gillespie swinging at a 3-2, two-out fastball to keep this a one-run game.
Camden missed scoring opportunities in the fifth and sixth as the Dogs had runners on second both times. Meanwhile, aside from the disputed hit batter call to open the seventh, Hoke cruised through the final two and two-thirds of his night in not allowing a hit after a two-out Stokes single in the fifth.
Camden collected seven hits in the win with Smith and Abbott each getting both a single and a double.
While some might want to say the Bulldogs had arrived with this win, Beckley was staying the course; saying his team has plenty of important conference games ahead of them.
“I want to be very cautious,” he said. “We are a team which has not been very consistent and we know it. We’ve been coaching consistency and trying to get better at it. If we lost tonight, we still would have been in the same exact situation. These next four (conference) games are going to make or break our season.
“Every game is vital and we have to approach it one game at a time and try to be more consistent. If we can do that, I like our chances.”

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