By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
RIPLEY – Before the preliminary round of the MHSAA Class 3A baseball playoffs, first-year Ripley coach Joel Gafford said his team had to play better defense behind starter Ben Hellums.
They committed 10 errors in the pitcher’s last outing and lost by a run.
The Tigers did commit two first-inning errors to give Cleveland East Side a 1-0 lead, but those would be their only two miscues of the game and the Trojans only run.
The Tigers (15-9) plated six runs on six hits in the bottom of the first, then added runs over the next three innings to win 13-1 in five innings of Friday’s best-of-three series opener.
Hellums, who struck-out 11 on just 60 pitches, allowed just one hit and didn’t allow a base runner over the final three innings. Ripley took a 1-0 lead in series.
Game 2 is scheduled for 2 p.m. today in Cleveland. If necessary, a third game will immediately follow. The winner advances to meet Riverside next weekend.
“I felt good out there. Everything was working,” said Hellums (3-3). “I was glad to get the ball. It helps us save (Jonathan) Morrison and getting the first win takes the pressure off. Now we just need keep it going.”
“We made some mistakes, but we settled down,“ said Gafford, who earned his first playoff win as a head coach. “Hellums kept his count low and we put the ball in play. We just need to take care of business at Cleveland.”
Senior catcher Zack Jones had what proved to be the game-winning hit as his first inning two-RBI single scored Tyler Cox and Austin Hamilton for a 2-1 lead. Jones had two of the Tigers’ 10 hits.
“We played decent,” Jones said. “We could have hit the ball better, but Ben threw well. He stayed ahead of hitters and his curve ball was tight. He just did a real good job.”