By Jeffery Armstrong
The Lovejoy Wildcats baseball team rebounded after a loss to Banneker Wednesday by defeating the Mt. Zion Bulldogs 5-3 Thursday night at home. Lovejoy (1-1) won its home opener for the first time in several years.
Mt. Zion (0-1) played pretty well in its first game of the season, but the team couldn't get the timely hits at the plate. In fact, the Bulldogs had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the first inning, but they could only score one run. Lovejoy starting pitcher Jonathan Greer settled down after loading the bases, striking out the side to end the inning. Greer, a senior, threw six straight strikes to get out of the jam.
"I had to keep a clear head out there in the first inning; I couldn't worry about the bases being loaded," said Greer, who pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts and two walks. "I got a lot of confidence after that inning and was able to help the team win."
Lovejoy tied the game at one in the bottom of the first when catcher Edmond Sparks singled to right, scoring center fielder Darius Thomas who reached on an error and stole second. The Wildcats went up by two runs an inning later as Greer walked and his pinch-runner Jaison Davis stole second. Wildcats' right fielder Henry Smoke walked and left fielder Jordan Hubbard singled home Davis, moving Smoke to third. Second baseman Phil Davis executed a squeeze bunt and was thrown out at first, but Smoke scored for a 3-1 Lovejoy lead.
Sparks gave Lovejoy a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he hit a sacrifice fly to score Thomas, who advanced to third on a stolen base and a bad throw from Mt. Zion catcher David Nemeth. Sparks was 2-for-2 with two RBIs in the game.
"I played okay; I know I can play better," Sparks said. "As a team, if we stick together we can go pretty far this year."
Mt. Zion made a comeback in the top of the sixth. Second baseman Andre Dixon tripled over the head of Thomas and scored a run when Derek Slaughter grounded to third baseman Chad Bishop, who made a bad throw home. Slaughter went to second on the Lovejoy mishap and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Greer. Third baseman Kevin Hobbs then hit a sacrifice fly to cut the Lovejoy lead to 4-3. Lovejoy bounced right back in the bottom of the sixth as pinch hitter Josh Ray golfed a shot to right field to score Smoke from second. With the score at 5-3 Lovejoy, Mt. Zion loaded the bases with two outs, but first baseman Tyrone Billingsley grounded out to end the game.
"I told the guys that those timely hits will come down the road into the season," said Mt. Zion head coach Bruce Jones. "I'm extremely proud of the guys' effort tonight; they played as a team. It was a good high school baseball game in early March."
Lovejoy head coach Craig Chatman was pleased with how his team played on consecutive nights.
"I'm happy with the win. Greer threw seven strong innings and we executed well tonight," he said. "We had a successful squeeze play and a successful hit-and-run; we didn't execute those kinds of plays well at all last year."