By REID TUCKER
Walton, buoyed by a few untimely Paxton miscues – and the two unearned runs that resulted – pulled ahead and stayed ahead to defeat the Bobcats 2-1 on their home turf.
There’s no denying that the Braves (5-3) were the better team through the stretch on the night of Feb. 28, though the first few innings were mostly a dead heat. Walton had a better night on the mound, where junior Tyler Lawniczak recorded the win by striking out 12 batters, walked four and gave up just two hits in five-and-a-half innings of work. Seth Tatman took over for part of the sixth inning and all of the seventh, adding another two Ks and a walk to get the save.
The Bobcats (1-2), by contrast, used three pitchers over the course of the game, and they got a combined 10 strikeouts while giving up three hits altogether. Walton had three hits on the night – a single apiece from Tatman, Wyatt Chapman and Steven Depauw, while Paxton’s Austin Burlison and Kaleb Newborn each went 1-for-3. Both teams had a fielding error, though neither led to a run for the other club, so the game was a close one, taken on the hole, with Walton getting the edge.
However, there’s no pretending that a controversial call in the bottom of the seventh didn’t mar the proceedings somewhat.
It looked as though the game was on its way to being a wrap after Tatman walked Paxton’s Keyeen Edge but then struck out Austin Carnley, with Austin Burlison up next in the rotation. Burlison singled in the third inning but he went down swinging in his second at-bat and already had an 0-2 count against him in what looked to be his last of game. But Burlison wasn’t done.
He smacked the ball into the shallow right field gap, just left of first base, and, in the resulting confusion to snatch up the ball and make the apparently easy out, Edge hesitated before taking off for second. That moment’s indecision blocked the Walton fielders’ view of the ball and enabled Burlison to reach first apparently unscathed, but that didn’t go over well with Braves head coach Shane Carnley, who questioned the first-base umpire’s call. The home plate umpire evidently agreed with Carnley’s entreaties and overturned the original “safe” call, instead calling Burlison out at first on the grounds of obstruction from Edge, a decision that didn’t go over well with Paxton’s coaches and fans and even got a volunteer thrown out of the game.
Paxton came to the top of the order after that, with starting pitcher, Grant Stewart (six strikeouts and two walks in two innings) going down swinging on three straight strikes to end the game.
Despite the contentious decision by the officials at the end of the game, Walton made a good case for itself, putting a run on the scoreboard in the third inning and in the fifth, with Paxton scrambling to make it a 2-1 ballgame in the bottom of six. Walton’s Logan Rhodes was 1-for-1, though he got on base in three appearances at the plate, and he scored the Braves’ first run on a passed ball after being walked then stealing his way to third base. Rhodes also scored Walton’s second run under similar circumstances, though in the second instance he reached first after being hit by an errant pitch.
The Bobcats’ lone run of the evening was unearned too, as Andrew Howell was walked then came home on a sacrifice fly by team mate Ian Forehand.
By REID TUCKER