With the rain gone and warmer temperatures arriving, it seemed as if spring had finally sprung Wednesday when Bradwell Institute and Liberty County squared off in a baseball scrimmage.
In the end, Liberty claimed local bragging rights with an 11-6 comeback win over the visiting Tigers.
Brandon Whitmore started on the mound for the Panthers while former Panther Chris Rafferty started for Bradwell. The Tigers got on the board in the first inning when Garrett McCorckle drove in Leonard Felton to put BI up 1-0.
That was all the scoring until the third inning when Whitmore was pulled for sophomore pitcher DeShaun Collins. The Tigers put five runs on the board on a combination of a Panther error, good base running, walks and timely hitting from Nick Synder, Rafferty, McCorckle, Matt Brown, Caleb Wells and Cody Hill.
Freshman pitcher Richard Lovelady was brought to the mound, but BI’s Eric Wells singled in Brown and Hill to put the Tigers up 6-0 going into the bottom of the third.
Liberty started chipping away at BI’s lead right away.
Rafferty walked Panther Samuel Wilson, and Cameron Harris reached on a bunt. Both Panthers advanced on steals and Wilson scored on a BI throwing error. Antonio Smith and Trey Sikes then drove in runs to make it 6-3.
Rafferty was relieved by Eric Wells, who walked two Panthers to load the bases. The Tigers turned a double play to get out of the inning.
In the top of the fourth inning, Lovelady and the Panthers defense retired the Tigers in order. The Panthers got things going in their half of the inning when Michael Lovelady hit a one-out double followed by a hit from Harris.
Bradwell brought Hill to the mound and he hit Whitmore with his first pitch to load the bases. Sikes drove in Lovelady and Harris, and Javaughn Shuman scored Sikes and Whitmore to put Liberty up 7-6.
Both teams went a quick three-and-out in the fifth inning and Liberty brought in freshman Curtis Michalowicz to pitch the sixth.
He struck out the first Tiger batter he faced then gave up a double to Mitch Rogers before retiring Eric Wells and walking Hill. Rogers stole third but the Tigers faced two outs and Hill was tagged at second on an attempted steal to end the inning.
McCorkle came in to pitch for the Tigers in the sixth inning and Liberty loaded the bases. Shuman and Liberty catcher Matt Desbiens emptied them as each drove in two runs to make it 11-6.
Panther coach David Samuel said his players began hitting better after dealing with preseason rust and a change in strategy to bunts and base running. But he was especially pleased with his pitching.
"Brandon Whitmore came out and did all right," Samuel said. "He was a little shaky in the first inning but came out in the second and did much better. Richard Lovelady and Curtis Michalowicz, both freshmen, came out and threw strikes and threw four good innings for me so that was a good job."
He said the Panthers still need to work on base running and the pitchers need to work on pick-off plays.
"Overall I was happy with the way the guys got better as the game went on," Samuel said.
Tiger coach Rhett Hellgren said he was equally pleased with his hurlers.
"This is the happiest I’ve ever been with our pitching staff and that is because we have a new pitching coach in Pat Sammons. He is working very hard with our pitchers and is a great addition to our staff," Hellgren said.
However, the Tiger coach said his players let their intensity slip and their concentration waiver, which allowed the Panthers to get back on track.
"Our lack of concentration and intensity gave them the big inning that brought them back into the game. We had a guy on second base and one out and we make a throw to second instead of going to first and getting the second out," Hellgren said, noting his team needs to improve at the plate. "And we need to get better at knowing what the count is. We have to be able to adjust. We are a team that should win ball games. We need to step up to the next level as a team and if we don’t it’s going to be a long season. But I am confident we will step it up."