By REID TUCKER
Angus Anderson’s stellar performance from the mound and solid contribution at the plate prevented Walton’s second game this season against Panama City Arnold from being decided by pure, blind chance.
Walton coach Rick Dixon was in no hurry to have his team grind out 12 innings again as the two sides had done in the first meeting of the season on March 1, a game that ended in an 8-7 loss for the Braves. So, as a precaution, he struck an unorthodox deal with his Arnold counterpart prior to the start of the game, played Friday, March 11, at Walton.
“I had gone over before the game and told their coach that if it looked anything like we were going to go toward 12 innings again that we would play rock-paper-scissors,” Dixon said, laughing. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to go in that direction. Fortunately it didn’t.”
In spite of the clandestine preparation to prevent a drawn-out game, Dixon needn’t have worried. The Braves (4-5) came back from one-run deficit going into their third at-bat to lay claim to and hang on to a 3-1 victory over Arnold (3-6), this time around sans five innings of free baseball. The win marks the first time in five games that Walton has beaten the Marlins.
Integral to that effort was Anderson, who struck out 11 batters and walked just three, compared to the Marlins’ Hank Hobby, who tallied three strikeouts and two walks. Walton also out-hit Arnold, with Anderson and Liam Miller accounting for four of five total hits, while Hunter Hart had two hits and James McKenzie had one for the Marlins. Miller, Chris Kelly and Chris Murphy scored Walton’s three runs and Bronson Hill scored Arnold’s lone run in the top of the second inning.
Though Anderson would make a good account of himself in the game, he started out slow, with an initial strikeout tempered by back-to-back walks, though no Arnold batter got on base. This trend continued through the bottom of the inning, but Arnold capitalized on a walk at the top of the second to send Hill stealing around the bases to home. Anderson gave up two hits in that at-bat but Walton’s defense turned in a good play at first to prevent the Marlins from scoring further, despite having two runners on.
Neither club scored again until the bottom of the third, when Miller took just one strike before crushing a homer over the center field wall to tie the game. Walton got two more hits that inning and drove in runs from Kelly and Murphy before the Braves were retired.
The Braves held on to the two-run advantage for the rest of the game though they tried to lengthen the lead several times. Hobby threw nothing but fastballs and the occasional changeup at the onset, but knuckled down on a wicked 12 o’clock-6 o’clock curveball in the middle innings, which gave the Braves some pause as the ball came from well above shoulder height to drop into the strike zone. While Hobby may not have gotten as many strikeouts, he nevertheless held up Walton’s batters long enough to keep the Marlins in the game.
Anderson retired three batters in quick succession in the top of the sixth, but Walton was unable to convert a run despite holding two bases in the bottom of the inning. Then, at the top of the seventh, Anderson gave up two hits in a row to put Arnold runners on first and second. Fortunately for the Braves, Ean Phillips popped out to the infield and Walton took the early win with a score of 3-1.
Dixon commended Anderson’s performance at the plate and at the pitcher’s mound, calling this his best game of the year. Despite struggling with his pitching in some earlier games, Anderson is primed to finish out the season stronger than ever, Dixon said. Anderson’s combination of solid hitting (as of this writing he hovers around the .500 mark) and a real presence on the mound means his individual success and the Braves’ success as a whole will be one and the same.
“[Anderson]’s been just on fire at the plate and I told him yesterday after hitting that he needs to bring the confidence he has when batting to the pitcher’s mound. “He’s a quality pitcher but he just hasn’t gone out and put together a great outing on the mound but he did tonight. I think getting him on track is going to go along way as far as our whole season is concerned.”