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PHCC avoids weekend sweep against Catawba Valley

April 21, 2014

Patrick Henry Community College first-year head baseball coach Lucas Jones said he wanted to see what kind of mental toughness his team would display Saturday after suffering a tough doubleheader sweep 3-2 and 7-5 in extra innings to National Junior College Athletic Association Region X leader Catawba Valley Community College on Friday.1891193_726222807409341_515128813_n

Down 1-0 to the Buccaneers heading into the closing innings, Jones got what he was looking for when the Patriots found a way to avoid a three-game series sweep to the North Carolina school.

Patrick Lane scored on a wild pitch in the eighth inning to help lift PHCC to a 2-1 victory at Hooker Field. After dropping a pair of one-run games last week and another in Game 1 on Friday, Jones said his team did what he hoped it would do by finding a way to win Saturday.

“Today we were able to capitalize on a couple of opportunities,” he said. “It wasn’t our best day offensively, which was a little bit better, but we were able to gut a few runs out there in the seventh and the eighth (innings) and get our guy in there on the back end to finish the game off.

“It was an awesome series with two well-coached teams that played three good games. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to meet them down the road again and face that challenge one more time,” he added.

With only three hits and 10 runners left on base through six innings, the Patriots (28-13, 17-8 Region X) finally got on the board in the seventh to tie the game at 1. Left fielder Stibel Aleman Saba hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Bassett High School graduate Nic Keister, who had walked to start the inning. Edgar Lozano hustled out a potential double-play ball before Saba’s at bat which allowed PHCC to earn its run.

The same scenario played out an inning later.

Justin Kime beat out a close play at first on a double-play attempt that would have ended the inning and stranded another Patriots runner at third base. Love then was able to score the winning run on a wild pitch during Lozano’s final plate appearance.

Jones said the little things that usually don’t show up in the box score helped his team earn the victory.

“We just sort of chipped those runs, got a sac-fly on a good at bat and then took advantage of a passed ball,” Jones said. “Those are the at bats our guys will be able to look back on and say ‘that was the play or at bat that changed the outcome of the game for us.’”

None of the late inning drama would have been possible if it weren’t for the appearance of PHCC starting pitcher Levi Pruitt. Normally the second-game starter for doubleheaders, Jones kept Pruitt on his normal schedule of rest despite the bump up in the schedule because of the holiday weekend. The Providence, N.C., native didn’t disappoint.

He tossed seven innings, allowed one unearned run and walked one over 93 pitches. He started with first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 29 batters he faced and 64 of the pitches he threw were strikes.

“I knew coming in that I had to give my team a chance to win. We had to have this win to keep us in a good spot for the (Region X) tournament,” Pruitt said. “I had pretty good control of every single one of my pitches. Being able to locate them too really helped keep their hitters off balance. Coach Jones told (our pitchers) from the very beginning that if we could give our team a chance to win heading into the final third of the game then that’s all he could ask for.”

Pruitt stranded seven runners on base, including one each over the first two innings at third base. After CVCC scored its lone run in the third, the right-hander didn’t allow a runner to get past second over the next four innings. Fifteen of the 21 outs he recorded were on ground balls.

“Levi is a command guy. He relies on his sinker ball and his defense,” Jones said. “That’s how a lot of our pitchers operate because we don’t have the guys that can throw swing-and-miss stuff. Levi trusted his defense today and got a ton of groundball outs.”

Catawba Valley (33-9, 17-5) scored its only run by starting off the third inning with PHCC’s only error of the game. A groundout and wild pitch moved No. 9 batter Andrew Meadows to third with one out, and he later scored two batters on an Ivan Acuna groundout to second base.

The Bucs failed to get the two-out RBI hit they were looking for, not only in the opening two innings but in the final few as well. Alex Brown retired CVCC in order in the ninth — the only time it was held to three straight outs — to earn the save.

“We thought we would ride that momentum from Friday and come out and play well. Patrick Henry is such a mentally tough team and their pitcher kept us off balance,” said CVCC head coach Frank Pait, who coached Jones at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne for two years. “We didn’t get the big hit when we needed to near the end and didn’t make adjustments to their pitcher.”

PHCC stranded 14 runners on base Saturday and 12 more in the second game Friday. It hosts Louisburg College at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Hooker Field.

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