After taking lumps, Alcorn Central is giving them

BELMONT – Don’t look now, but the Alcorn Central High baseball team is 14-1 and, most important, 3-0 in MHSAA’s Division 1-3A.
The third-ranked team in Class 3A got a strong pitching performance from freshman left-hander Justin Sparks as it held on for an 8-5 win at division opponent Belmont on Friday night.
“We’ve taken our lumps,” Golden Bears coach Jeff Wood said about the past couple of seasons. “We might only have three seniors, but we’ve got a lot of veterans that have gotten their games in and have a lot of experience out there.”
Sparks’ final line read six innings, four runs, eight hits, three strikeouts, one walk and a hit batsman – not particularly impressive numbers, but then again, certainly not a true indicator of the success he had against the Cardinals’ hitters.
He pitched to the minimum number of batters through the first three innings, and a couple of the hits he allowed were either infield or bloop hits.
“He did an excellent job,” Cardinals coach Andy Deaton said of Sparks who improved to 5-0. “He kept us off balance, coming inside with his fastball and throwing his breaking ball away.
“He had us tied up all night. We saw him last year, and he’s improved tremendously.”
Meanwhile, Phillip Armstrong (0-3) didn’t pitch too badly for the Cardinals (8-6, 1-2) despite allowing eight runs. The Alcorn Central hitters put the pressure on Armstrong’s defense in the middle innings.
The Golden Bears scored four runs in the third inning off two hits, two bunts, two errors and a passed ball.
They tallied four more in the next inning on three hits – including an RBI double by Phillip Quinn and an RBI single by Jake Beck – one bunt, one error and a wild pitch.
“We try to stress fundamentals, do the things that we need to win,” Wood said. “And we did those tonight.”
The Cardinals finally got to him in the fifth when Phillip Armstrong’s single to center scored two runs. Luke Armstrong’s two-run shot to left in the bottom of the sixth cut the Golden Bears’ lead to 8-4.
Thanks to Quinn’s diving catch in the right-center gap to rob Bryan Malone, Sparks was able to escape further damage.
Trae Bain came on at the start of the seventh to close things out.
The junior had to fight to earn his fourth save of the season, as Alexander knocked in his third run of the game on an infield hit with the bases loaded.
But the Alcorn Central right-hander struck out Jake Hall for the third out and his third K of the inning – all coming on called third strikes by the home plate umpire.
“I told them that when you get a relief pitcher, make him throw strikes because he’s coming in fresh,” Deaton said. “We made him throw strikes.
“We hit some fastballs. … We just didn’t get the hit when we needed to there in the end.”

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal