Prep Baseball: Leone lifts Salisbury in nine innings
SALISBURY — Salisbury Hornets broke their postgame huddle with a gleeful shout of “Jimmy!”
Jimmy Leone began Tuesday’s frosty, nine-inning marathon as an unknown. He finished it with a new nickname — Jimmy Walkoff — after his bouncing single past third base scored Ryan Jones with the winning run.
Salisbury’s 2-1 Central Carolina Conference win at Robertson Stadium was filled with tense situations. The pitchers won almost all of them until Leone came through.
Central starting pitcher John Hanes didn’t deserve to lose, but he did. He kept the Hornets off-balance and hitting flyballs all day. He exited after allowing back-to-back walks with one out in the ninth, and Leone was the first batter reliever Jordan Laws faced.
“John battled for us,” Central coach Matt Parson said. “He was coming off a stomach bug, but he did a heck of a job.”
Riley Myers, who pitched into the sixth, and Chance Bowden (1-0) got it done on the mound for the Hornets.
“There were some hectic innings,” Bowden said. “We got through them because our defense was great today.”
Central (3-7, 2-1) never went down 1-2-3, but the Spartans left 13 men on base.
“We got some breaks today, but maybe we were due to catch a break,” Salisbury coach Scott Maddox said. “We also showed some mental toughness when things weren’t going well. We’ve talked a lot about that.”
One break Salisbury got was a call at first base that cost Central a run. Andrew Zavaleta appeared to easily beat the throw on a bouncer to shortstop, but he was called out. Central assistant Michael Ray was tossed in the fourth for arguing that one.
Both teams squandered chance after chance. Hanes caught a popped-up bunt and turned it into a double play to stop Salisbury in the second. Central popped up rally-wrecking bunts in the second and fourth.
Salisbury went ahead 1-0 in the fourth when Brian Bauk lashed a double to the right-field wall, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Bowden’s flyball to center.
Josh Moore poked a run-scoring single to right for Central in the sixth, but Bowden escaped the inning with a 1-1 tie with the help of right fielder Scott Friedrich, who made a running catch in foul territory as he banged against a fence.
Jordan Lakey doubled to lead off the Central eighth, but Bowden worked out of yet another jam.
In the SHS eighth, Hanes struck out Bowden and Parker McKeithan with the bases loaded when it looked like the Hornets surely would win it.
“That at-bat got me down, but it also got me up,” Bowden said. “It made me want to bulldog it on the mound.”
Bowden was in deep trouble in the ninth, as Central loaded the bases with one out. But Lakey drilled a low liner right at Myers, who had moved to second base, and he turned it into a game-saving DP. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, walks to Jones and Friedrich preceded Leone’s big at-bat.
“There was nothing in my head at all,” Leone said. “I just got up in the box and made contact. I didn’t know the ball went through until I was turning first base. That’s when I saw Ryan was going to score.”
The exhilirating win for the Hornets (4-6, 2-1) was a tough one for Central to swallow.
“Baseball’s a cruel game,” Parsons said. “Sometimes it’s just an inch. We hit a ball hard that turns into a double play, and then their bottom-of-the-order guy hits a groundball on a very good pitch — but it finds a hole.”