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Defense does in Bears; St. Al aims to end it Friday

Victor Segers (12) gets ready to make the catch as West Lincoln’s Jeremy Branning slides into second. Backing up the play is Clay Simmons. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[04/20/01] Poor defense had been hurting the West Lincoln Bears throughout their stretch run, contributing to a second-half slide in which they lost six of their last nine.

Thursday night against St. Al, the shoddy defense made it seven out of 10.

St. Al (19-2) scored seven unearned runs off of eight West Lincoln errors to claim a 13-3 win and take a 1-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.

Game two of the best-of-three series is Friday night at 6:30 in Brookhaven. Ryan Hearn (7-1) will start for St. Al against West Lincoln’s Jamie Sisco (5-2).

“That puts a little pressure off of us and puts some pressure on them. Now we come in with Ryan, who should be my closer, should be the guy who hopefully can get the job done (today) and get it over with,” St. Al coach Joe Graves said.

Aaron George went 2-for-4 with a home run, double and two RBIs, and Blake Warnock went 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI single to lead St. Al. George was also the winning pitcher, scattering nine hits all singles and striking out three in six innings.

“It kind of eases the tension, I guess,” George said of winning the opener. “We can relax (today). We’ve got a good pitcher going.”

The defensive demons showed up early for West Lincoln (11-10). After an RBI single by Charlie Amborn gave St. Al a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, two Bear errors and a wild pitch helped bring in four more runs, giving the Flashes a 5-0 lead.

West Lincoln responded with three runs in the second.

Four straight singles, a bases-loaded walk to No. 9 hitter David Leggett and a sacrifice fly to right by losing pitcher Corey Easley keyed the rally.

St. Al right fielder Walker Hengst saved a run on the sacrifice fly, however, by making a diving catch of Easley’s dropping liner.

It was one of several solid defensive plays by the Flashes, contrasting with the Bears’ spotty play. St. Al turned two inning-ending double plays, while West Lincoln had several hard-hit balls bounce off of gloves or legs.

“That’s our ballgame. Somebody gives us an opening, we’re going to take everything we can. We hit the ball hard at them a few times and they had problems with hard-hit shots right at them,” Graves said.

Two such ricochets in the bottom of the third, as well as an errant pickoff throw, brought in three more St. Al runs and gave the Flashes an 8-3 lead.

“Those two or three innings that they had a lot of scores in, errors kept them alive. The first inning we had the error here at the plate and if we don’t have that, very few runs would have scored, if any,” West Lincoln coach Andrew Redd said. “You can’t win when you have errors. You can’t win if you don’t make the routine plays. We struggled with that the last half of the season, and it’s showing up big-time right now.”

Finally, in the fourth, the Flashes showed they didn’t need any more charity. Warnock drove a one-out triple to the gap in right-center and after a foul-out to third, George hit a laserbeam over the left-field wall to give St. Al a 10-3 lead.

“When Aaron stepped up and ripped that baseball out of here, that was kind of like letting the air out of everybody. It kind of relaxed them a little bit, and everybody started hitting the ball then,” Graves said.

Warnock’s RBI single in the fifth scored second baseman Victor Segers to make it 11-3, and the Flashes closed out game one with two more unearned runs in the sixth.

Redd said his team’s goal remains the same win two games.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Redd said. “Of course, when you’re going into it you’ve got to win two. It don’t matter which two you win, but it sure makes it easier if you win those first two.”