Prep Baseball: Hornets win fifth straight game
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Game of inches? Baseball almost always is.
The critical at-bat of Salisbury’s 9-4 win against Providence Grove on Wednesday at Robertson Stadium fell on the shoulders of Salisbury sophomore Bo Rusher, a rare catcher/leadoff batter.
The bases were loaded with one out in a 3-3 game when Rusher, a lefty hitter, stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth to face Providence Grove southpaw reliever Jacob Switzer, who already had struck Rusher out in the fifth.
Rusher was quickly in an 0-and-2 hole, and with the lefty-0n-lefty matchup, he was 99 percent sure something off-speed was coming next. But Switzer fooled him with a great pitch. The 0-and-2 offering was a fastball, maybe an inch low, maybe an inch outside. Rusher took it. There wasn’t anything else he could do. If he’d swung, he would’ve struck out. Fortunately for Rusher and the Hornets, the borderline pitch was called a ball. Switzer was visibly dismayed that he didn’t get the call. Rusher dug in again, and then the young slugger produced the game-deciding at-bat.
“He threw a bunch of curves, I fouled them off, stayed alive,” Rusher said.
It was 2-and-2 for a while, and when Switzer finally tried another fastball away, Rusher mashed it.
“We work on two-strike approach, shortening up, looking to go the other way, all the time,” Rusher said. “Fastball away, and I was able to hit a line drive over the left fielder’s head.”
Rusher’s two-run, opposite-field double to the fence put the Hornets ahead for the first time in a fight-from-behind day.
“Bo really worked that at-bat,” Salisbury coach Mike Herndon said.
Salisbury trailed 2-0 when Seth Smith bounced a two-out, two-run single up the middle in the third against Salisbury starter Griffin Myers.
“Griff definitely wasn’t at his best today,” Rusher said. “But he competed. He kept it close, gave us a chance to come back.”
Salisbury (10-5) scratched for two runs to tie in the fourth, taking advantage of two errors. Zach Robinette’s grounder got a run in, and Hut Smith smacked the first of the Hornets’ three sac flies.
Evan Stern belted a run-scoring double — it nearly left the park — to put the visiting Patriots (6-10) back on top in the fifth, 3-2. Switzer, who followed solid starter Levi Adams to the mound for Providence Grove, maintained that lead in the bottom of the inning.
Chandler Lippard relieved Myers for the top of the sixth. He got one out before Jack Fisher pitched the Hornets out of a two-men-on jam.
After a delay — the plate umpire disappeared for a bathroom break — Joe Steinman led off the decisive bottom of the sixth. Steinman stroked the ball hard, a hooking liner toward the right fielder. When a dive failed, the ball rolled to the fence, and Steinman, who has good wheels, was standing at third base with the tying run.
“Hits can be contagious and they just kept on coming,” Steinman said. “We kept the momentum going.”
With Steinman at third. Providence Grove played the infielders in at the corners but back in the middle, and Will Taylor has been well-schooled. He was determined to keep the ball in the middle of field and his line-drive sac fly to center got the job done. Steinman slid home ahead of a powerful throw.
After that, a walk, a bloop hit by Smith and an infield hit by Fisher filled the bases. That’s when Rusher’s double put the Hornets ahead.
“We had some really good at-bats against some good arms,” Herndon said.
An error made it 6-3. Blaine Shellhorn’s hit made it 7-3. Steinman’s sac fly made it 8-3. Yet another error made it 9-3. Salisbury sent 12 men to the plate in the sixth and scored seven times.
“We only had three strikeouts, and if you only strike out three times, you’ve got a lot of chances to score runs,” Rusher said. “We were putting the ball in play.”
The Patriots got a run in the seventh on a throwing error, but Fisher finished and earned the win.
Salisbury has won five in a row and nine of 11 since starting the season 1-3. The way the playoffs are structured, every win, even non-conference ones such as Wednesday’s, are meaningful.
“I don’t know that we’re the most talented team around, but our guys are doing things the right way, and I’m proud of the way they’re competing,” Herndon said. “They believe they can win. They had an opportunity to get another win today, and they did it.”
Next for the Hornets is a game with Carson at 4 p.m. on Friday in the F&M Bank Classic Easter Tournament in Kannapolis.
“We’re excited about the tournament,” Steinman said. “It’s a chance to play some of the big teams.”
Providence Grove 002 010 1 — 4 7 5
Salisbury 000 207 x — 9 9 2
W — Fisher (1-0). L — Switzer (0-1).
Leading hitters — PG: Smith 2 RBIs, Stern 3-for-4. SHS: Rusher 3-for-4, 2 RBIs, Steinman 2-for-3, RBI.
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