Pine holds off Pope John Paul II

Published 11:02 am Friday, March 22, 2013

Pine’s Conner Ard got a big hit and nailed down a tough save, while teammate Hunter Cooper threw six strong innings in a 5-4 victory district-opening victory over Pope John Paul II Tuesday.

Pine (7-6) led 5-4 through six innings, but the Jaguars (2-10) started a rally in the seventh off of the Raiders’ relief pitcher. Ard, the Raiders’ third pitcher used Tuesday, took the mound with a runner on first and a 2-0 count to Taylor Thies, who drew a walk. The next hitter attempted to put down a bunt to move the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position and take the force out away, but first baseman Nick Adcox had other ideas. He came up with the ball and threw to third where Jordan Phelps scooped a low throw out of the dirt for the force.

“We preach bunt coverage,” Raiders’ coach Blake Dillon said. “If the guys are bunting the ball, we want to get an out somewhere. It’s unacceptable not to get an out. When we can get the out with the lead runner, that’s what we want to get every time. I thought they executed it perfectly.”

Ard struckout the next hitter looking before recording the final one on a lineout to centerfield, which locked down the win.

Pope John Paul II coach J.P. Martinez, who pitched professionally, getting as high as Triple A, was a 2004 ninth round draft pick (No. 270 overall) by the Minnesota Twins out of the University of New Orleans.

Martinez said his team has had some close in a lot of games. This was the fifth time the Jaguars have been involved in a contest decided by three runs or less.

Martinez said he tells his club not to let the frustration creep in.

“You’ve got to stay positive, you gotta keep having productive at bats, be tough on the defensive side of the ball, keep throwing the ball to the plate and take your chances,” Martinez said. “We just haven’t been able to pull one out yet. We’re not down, we’re just 2-10.”

The Raiders got a good start out of Cooper, who threw six innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on five hits with six walks, five strikeouts and a hit batter.

Cooper credited the Raiders’ defense.

“Everybody made plays,” Cooper said. “I know we had a few games earlier this year where we made a few errors and lost some games real close, but we made some plays today.”

He said good defense gives him confidence on the mound.

“When they hit the ball, you know that, hey, they’ve got that one,” Cooper said. “Even the ones you don’t think most teams can get, I’ve got faith in my guys that they’re going to go get it.”

Pine won in an action-packed game that saw the teams combine to throw three runners out at the plate.

Pope John Paul II had a player thrown out attempting to steal home and another one picked off of first base.

Pine had two people thrown out at home, one trying to score on what would’ve been a passed ball and the other was trying to tally after tagging up at third on a flyball to center.

The game was scoreless through three when the Raiders got on the board. With one out, Evan Vasalech lined a single to left. Trey Cooper pushed a bunt by the pitcher for a hit. Tanner Graham then walked to load the bases. That set the stage for Ard, who took advantage. Ard took a pitch the opposite way, sending it down the right field line for a two-run single and a 2-0 lead.

Ard said it was an outside fastball.

“I’ve been working on my oppo (hitting), so I was looking forward to that,” Ard said.

Hunter Cooper was next with runners on the corners. Pine attempted a safety squeeze and got much more than they expected. Cooper put the bunt down. PJP threw to first, but did so high and into right field. Ard came all of the way around to score from first and Cooper made it to third. It was 4-0. The Raiders nearly added one more when Phelps lined out to center, but the courtesy runner attempting to score was out at the plate.

Cooper was sailing right along and retired the first two batters in the fifth, but ran into trouble. He walked Blayne Haro, Christian Grady and Chris Roberson consecutively. Justin Gandy lifted a flyball to left, but an error on the fielder allowed two runs to score, trimming it to 4-2. Roberson is a Poplarville, Miss. resident, and his parents work in Bogalusa.

Pine added one more in the fifth when Trevor Stuart walked and later scored on Trey Cooper’s RBI single, making it 5-2.

PJP continued to fight back. Steven Schmitt singled with one out before Clayton Riviere was hit. With two outs, Haro loaded the bases with a single, setting up Grady, who recorded a two-run single and cut the deficit to 5-4.

Pine was retired in order during the sixth. The Jaguars had runners on first-and-second with nobody out, but the Raiders played great bunt defense for the first out before the next two hitters struck out and then lined out to center.