By REID TUCKER
An intense pitchers’ duel ended in a 3-2 victory for Freeport Middle School’s baseball team over cross-county rival Walton.
Both Walton coach Steven Wassman and Freeport coach Dan Bump agreed that low-scoring, close games aren’t the norm in most middle school contests, but this game proved an exception to the rule. The reason, Wassman said, is because at the middle school level, most batters get hits. That may be what most often happens, but it definitely didn’t happen that way on Tuesday, March 29.
Bump said Freeport and Walton have fought some close battles in the last few years, often settled by just one run and mostly in Walton’s favor. He said it was high time the tables were turned, especially considering Freeport Middle’s historically underdog status in matchups against the Warriors.
“I think it’s about time luck turned around,” Bump said. “It’s nice that for once the breaks went our way. It’s nice to knock off one of the big boys.”
Freeport’s Ryder Newman and Walton’s Jordan Watkins each had eight strikeouts apiece but Newman gave up just three hits, while Walker was hit five times. Both pitchers walked just one batter apiece. Coleman Truett, Walton’s relief pitcher, came in during the sixth inning and had two strikeouts before the end of play in the seventh.
In a game so dominated from the mound, making the most of time spent at the plate is critical, as Walton (10-5) found out in the top of the sixth. The 2-2 deadlock was broken by the Bulldogs (11-7) when Newman crushed a fly ball into deep center, which should have been an easy out for Tyler Lawnizak. However, he just barely missed the ball, earning the Warriors their second of two errors in the game and putting Newman in position to steal home.
Wassman said allowing Freeport to take the lead on the error was what ultimately lead to the Warriors’ loss, in spite of other chances to stage a comeback in the seventh inning. He said good pitching, make every error twice as costly.
“Good teams take advantage of extra outs,” he said. “[Freeport] got an extra out and they took advantage of it. It was a good game with momentum. In a pitchers’ duel, errors kill you…It was a very crucial error and it hurt us.”
Most at-bats were of the three-up-three-down variety until Walton took the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Watkins hit a sacrifice to bring Rasheem Blackman around to score. However, that deficit was short lived, as Freeport retaliated with back-to-back runs from Hagen Brown and seventh-grader Joseph Sanders in their next at-bat to take the lead. Austin Nelson tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning only to have the Warriors commit the error that enabled the Bulldogs to get the go-ahead run.
Walton looked poised to rally in the seventh inning after both sides were retired in order in their subsequent at-bats. Nelson reached on a single but Newman struck out the next two batters before advancing Truett on a dead ball. Newman pulled out all the stops to give Lawnizak three straight strikes, bringing the game to a close and leaving the Warriors with two runners on.
Bump said winning the rivalry game against Walton took away some of the sting out of Freeport’s unexpected loss in a recent tournament. The Bulldogs were defeated in the opening round 2-1 by Graceville, a team they’d run-ruled in their past two meetings. What’s more, Bump said his team pulled out a win despite being down two starters, Tristan Locke and Nicholas Carroll, both of whom were injured the previous week in a “catastrophic dodgeball injury” sustained in PE class.
“This was icing on the cake,” Bump said. “Our performance early in the season left a bad taste in our mouths. This was our first game since then, and I’m really proud of the way [the team] came out and played a solid ballgame. They could have said the season was over but they played probably their best complete game we’ve played all year. This was really gratifying to see the kids do so well.”