Pine Bluff baseball coach Greg Easter would probably pay a premium price to sell one inning of every game.
Easter and the Zebras have established a routine of giving up one big inning of every affair. Tuesday was no different at Taylor Field as Watson Chapel used a nine-run third to ease past Pine Bluff 15-5 in five innings.
The Wildcats (15-5) sent 13 men to the plate in the third to build an 11-0 lead before the Z’s (2-12) answered in the bottom of the frame with a five-spot.
But Watson Chapel added two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth on a towering opposite-field home run by V.J. Dickson to put the game away.
“You can just take the Lake Hamilton game and just change the name of the team,” Easter said of repeatedly giving up big innings. “We just can’t have a game where we go through without that one. We can play all but one.”
Pine Bluff starting pitcher Larry Williams was in control in the early innings, forcing routine fly ball outs from the Wildcats. Williams coerced two consecutive pop outs to Landen Colson and Justin Dardenne to start the game before Zach Bradford singled and Reece Huffty doubled to put runners at second and third with two outs. Williams then got a ground ball that should have ended the inning but Keifer Beckford had trouble making the throw from second and both runs scored to put Chapel up 2-0.
After a 1-2-3 bottom half by Watson Chapel starter Wyatt Jones, Williams worked around an error for a scoreless second. Pine Bluff put two runners on the bottom of the frame but failed to score as Jones recorded strikeouts of LaDarius Washington and Beckford.
Then came the third.
Justin Dardenne started things off with a double, Bradford walked and Huffty loaded the bases with a single. Dickson plated Dardenne with a single to make the score 3-0. Williams struggled after that, hitting Jones in the back on a 3-2 count and walking Jordan Stargell and Paxton Newton to force home two more runs. Josh Dardenne drove in the next run and reached on a Washington error at third and Colson, the leadoff hitter, walked to force home another run off reliever Aaron McDonald. Justin Dardenne hit a sacrifice fly to plate the eighth run of the inning and Bradford singled home the ninth.
“They come up with all the guys that drive the runs in and we are putting guys on in front of them,” Easter said. “I have stressed that. I have even completely went psycho on that before so they know how I feel about that.”
Pine Bluff rallied for five runs off Watson Chapel reliever R.J. McGregor in the bottom of the third to close the scoring gap to 11-5. Jalen Dabner started the inning with a single for the Zebras’ first hit of the game. Paul Dewalt followed with a bunt single and Adam Graham reached on a sacrifice bunt attempt that McGregor fielded but failed to record an out, loading the bases. Williams drew a walk to plate the first run, Karl Dewalt followed with an RBI walk, ending McGregor’s outing, Washington executed a perfect squeeze bunt for the third run and Ryan Green singled home a pair before Bradford fanned Beckford to end the frame.
“He did a good job but when people want to bunt and give you the out you have to execute and get the out,” Cope said of McGregor’s outing. “But he will bounce back. He’s a senior and he has pitched enough. I’m not worried about him.”
Watson Chapel padded its lead with two on RBI singles by Colson and Justin Dardenne’s before Dickson’s blast put the Cats up by 10 in the fifth.
“It was outside so I just tried to put it in right field somewhere,” Dickson said of his second long ball of the season. “It feels good. I think this is the biggest field we play on.”
Dickson added that thumping rival Pine Bluff was always a feather in Watson Chapel’s hat.
“It’s always good to beat Pine Bluff in any sport,” Dickson said. “Every time we play them, no matter what they have done in the past, we always get their best game. We know that and we try to come out here and do our best.”