By Jeff Odom
The Steinbrenner baseball team endured its first big test of the season by downing Wharton 2-1 at home March 5 to remain undefeated this season.
The Warriors’ (9-0) offense, which has outscored its opponents 80-9 through nine games, was kept quiet at the plate for most of the night. The defense rose to the challenge thanks to a pair of highlight-reel catches in the outfield and a near-flawless pitching performance to hold on to the win.
“We’ve had some pretty good offensive games and we had some pretty good batting practice (the day before), so we thought we were going to continue with some good swings,” said Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley. “We just took some uncharacteristically bad swings, and we’ll have to work on it in practice.”
The Warriors got on the board in the first inning thanks to an error by the Wildcats (3-6).
Alex Hanson led off the first by smashing a double to the left field fence. Wharton pitcher Mike Gonzalez retired Kevin Merrell for the first out, but walked Chase Turner on four pitches.
The mistake would come back to bite Gonzalez as Hanson scored from second base after a throw by Wildcats catcher Reed Gray during an attempted pickoff sailed into the outfield.
The Warriors doubled their lead in the second as Mijon Cummings belted his second home run of the season to make it 2-0. The junior third baseman was just 1-of-3 at the plate, but his solo blast proved to be the difference maker.
“It felt great,” Cummings said. “We’ve really been playing with a lot of intensity and high energy lately, and to get that (run) was big for us and it helped us win the game.”
Right-handed pitcher Gideon Dunn and the Steinbrenner defense were forced to carry the team from there as Gonzalez was dominant after the rough start, allowing one earned run on three hits in six innings.
The Wildcats loaded the bases with two outs in the third and looked poised to score their first run of the night. However, a diving catch in centerfield by Steinbrenner’s Michael McGuire ended the threat.
Wharton broke through on Ryan Lawson’s homer to lead off the sixth, but that’s as close at it got.
Dunn struck out seven and scattered five hits in six and a third innings to earn his third win of the season.
“I had a commanding fast ball and a great slider and change-up,” Dunn said. “(I knew) if the change-up worked for me, then the tone of the game is set for me and that is what helped.”
The Wildcats made one last bid for a comeback in the seventh by stringing together a pair of hits up the middle to put two on with one out. Steinbrenner right-hander Logan Lapace came on in relief of Dunn and quickly thwarted any hope by forcing Wharton’s Alex Kranick to pop out to Merrell at second base.
Hanson finished the job by robbing shortstop Tuck Neuhaus, a Louisville commit, of an extra base hit with a headfirst diving catch in left field for the final out.
“(I told them coming in) you’ve got to win games like this,” Crumbley said. “We’re just glad we came out with the 2-1 victory, and we’ll go work on the things that we have to work on.”
Steinbrenner and Wharton are both currently playing in the Saladino Tournament.
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