By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
HAMILTON – Entering Thursday night’s Class 2A semifinal opener with Bruce, Hamilton starting pitcher Dylan Earnest had allowed just one hit in 10 shutout innings in the playoffs.
After Bruce struck for first blood, however, the Lions’ senior southpaw settled right back in with his previous playoff form.
Earnest (11-0) overcame a slow start and allowed just three hits to lead Hamilton (21-3) to a 6-2 victory and a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Bruce.
Bruce (22-6) dropped its third game this season to its Division 2-2A rival.
Earnest surrendered a two-home home run to Bruce shortstop Caleb Hanley in the top of the first. But the Lions quickly tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom half and took the lead for good with a three-run spot in the second inning.
“That was great,” said Earnest. “I thought we might go in and be down a little bit. But we came back right away and tied it up. That got us right back in the game and made it a new game.”
Earnest gave up two hits and two runs in the first, but then the Itawamba Community College signee didn’t allow another hit until a lead-off single in the seventh inning. Earnest struck out 10 and walked two in his complete-game effort.
“That was big that we answered right back,” said Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest. “If you don’t answer it, the momentum is a big thing, even in baseball. I preach to them to win the next inning and try to win every inning. And we won most of them tonight.”
Hamilton junior centerfielder Chase Reeves smashed a two-run dinger in the bottom of the fourth. It was Reeves’ fourth home run of the season and one of his three hits on the night. Earnest also aided his pitching with a pair of hits of his own and a two-run single in the second inning.
“I figured Dylan would be OK,” said Lewis Earnest. “Hanley is a good hitter and he just got one up and was able to get the bat on it.
“But Chase’s wasn’t wind-aided. He knocked the fool out of that ball and hit it hard. We responded as an offense and came up with the big hits early in the game.”
Catcher Parker Rye also had a pair of hits and an RBI for the Lions while Nathan Cockerham added an RBI single.
Bruce pitcher Jay King also went the distance and took the loss. The right-hander allowed five earned runs on 10 hits with five strikeouts and a walk.