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Sitting on the top of the conference

CHERRYVILLE–West Lincoln`s status as a top contender in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference baseball race took a major hit last week.
After losing 12-7 to Bessemer City earlier in the week, the Rebels closed out the “week that wasn`t” by dropping a 13-7 decision to Cherryville Friday night at Fraley Field.
The Rebels emerged from the wreckage of the week with a 3-3 conference record (8-5 overall), two games back of SPC co-leaders Cherryville and Bessemer City.
West Lincoln, which figured to have the deepest, most talented pitching staff in the conference, has given up 25 runs in its last two games.
Of course, pitching was not the only problem for the Rebels Friday night. The defense committed a whopping seven errors, six of them coming in the second and third innings when the Ironmen scored 10 runs to take control of the game.
No one aspect of the defense could shoulder the blame. The Rebels bobbled grounders on the infield, threw wildly on the bases and dropped fly balls in the outfield.
“Anytime you make seven errors, it’s going to be hard to overcome,” Rebels head coach Allan Chapman said. “The games we’ve lost, we’ve kicked it around. We outhit Bessemer Tuesday night and outhit Cherryville and in both instances, we cost ourselves the ballgame by not playing it in the field,” he added.
In addition, West Lincoln pitching gave up five walks in the first two innings, and three of those five baserunners came around to score Cherryville runs.
The errors and the pitching problems offset West Lincoln`s 13-9 edge in hits. Normally, the Rebels would have knocked out Cherryville starter Brian Gardo early, but the Ironmen staked Gardo to an 11-3 lead after three innings of play.
Gardo gave up a two-run homer in the fifth by Johnathon Wise and a solo shot by Tyler High in the sixth, but he was able to coast home with the big lead.
The pivotal inning was the second. Trailing 2-1, the Ironmen scored six runs with the aid of a mere three hits to go up 7-2. The Rebels had a chance to end the inning with minimal damage, but Jeremy Craft`s perfect double play grounder was mishandled, opening the door for the big inning.
Cherryville lead-off batter Tripp McSwain reached base in all four appearances and scored four runs. Steven Hoyle did the most damage, however, going 2-for-4 with five RBI.
Hoyle hit a three-run homer to right field in the third off Ryan Rhodes, the third West Lincoln pitcher of the game. In the fifth, Hoyle doubled into the right field corner to knock in another run.
Catcher Seth Freeman, whose hot hitting has moved him up to fifth in the batting order, went 2-for-3 and drove in three runs on a sacrifice fly and a pair of singles.
For West Lincoln, Paul Finger hit the ball hard in every plate appearance, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a RBI. Wise singled, doubled and homered in four at-bats and knocked in three runs.
West Lincoln starting pitcher Daniel Smith had control problems and was lifted in the second inning. Smith took the pitching loss.
On Tuesday, Cherryville plays at Bessemer City in a battle for first place, and the Rebels are at home against North Lincoln.
“We’re going to try to get one against North and if we can, we’ll set ourselves up to make a little run here at the end,” Chapman said. “I think we can win every game we play in the conference, but we just have to play them and have to play well,” he added.

Sports editor John Mark Brooks contributed to this story.

Senior Paul Finger, who went 3-for-4 against the Ironmen, prepares to step up to the plate at Fraley Field. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by Mike Powell

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