By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – Believe it or not, the Houston High baseball team began the 2011 season struggling at the plate.
You couldn’t tell that on Friday afternoon, though.
The Hilltoppers cranked out 11 hits – with two of those traveling out of the yard – in run-ruling Itawamba AHS in five innings, 13-1, in a Saltillo Spring Classic game at Saltillo City Park.
“We started off pretty slowly,” said Hilltoppers coach Scott Gann. “We finally jumped on it.”
John Ryan Porter started things off by belting a two-run homer to center field in the top of the first and Austin Foster, who came off the bench, ended things with a a two-run shot down the left-field line.
The Hilltoppers (6-3) scored six times on four hits in the second inning when they sent 11 hitters to the plate. In relief of starter Tyler Loden (0-2), Ryan Reese came on to pitch the beginning of the inning for the Indians (4-6), and was greeted rudely by Ross Moore’s two-run base hit up the middle and Jacob Shempert’s two-run double down the left-field line.
From there on out, the Houston hitters put the pressure on the Indians’ defense, as they would strike out only twice against three IAHS pitchers. The Indians committed five errors.
With stellar defense behind him – Porter, Houston’s second baseman, made a diving stop on a ground ball in the bottom of the fifth to drastically limit the chances of any comeback for the Indians – sophomore Peyton Callahan (1-0) was able to pitch comfortably in his varsity debut. In other words, he didn’t have to worry about striking people out.
Although he struck out only two IAHS hitters, both coming in the fourth inning, Callahan went the distance, scattering five hits, issuing two walks and hitting a batter. The Indians’ only run was produced on two fielder’s choices and a double by Tyler Thomas in the bottom of the second.
“He’s a real competitor,” Gann said of his sophomore pitcher. “He likes to compete in whatever sport or wherever we put him in the field.
“He really took the challenge today to go up against pretty much a powerhouse traditionally (in IAHS). He really pounded the strike zone and threw the ball well for us.”
Shempert, a Mississippi State commitment, went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs, and Brennan Pugh led off a three-run fifth inning for the Hilltoppers with a triple to left.
With Friday’s performance, the Hilltoppers likely gained the respect of Division 4-4A rival Amory – if they don’t have already have it by now – which was on hand waiting patiently for their Spring Classic game against Saltillo later that night.
Gann’s team will take on last year’s state runner-up on March 29 and April 15.