LOCUST GROVE — When Lovejoy coach Craig Chatman was talking about his team in the preseason he said he believed that this year’s squad was better offensively than the 2012 version that went 21-7 with a trip to the state playoffs.
Count Luella among the teams that believe him.
The Wildcats utilized a six-run burst in the fourth inning and then tacked another two-run spurt in the top of the sixth to pull away from Luella in a 10-6 victory in Tuesday’s Region 2-AAAAAA matchup that Chatman called a crucial win.
“It was huge for us not to go 0-2 in our region,” Chatman said. “We lost to a good Newton team the other night, and if we were to lose to what is traditionally a good Luella program, we’re kind of looking at our backs being up against the wall a bit.”
Lovejoy broke the game open behind the pitching and hitting of Drew Nicholson and Mark Flournoy. Nicholson was one inning short of pitching a complete game. He recorded 10 strikeouts and held Luella’s batters in check for most of the game, while his own team’s hitters caught fire.
“As long as they’re hitting and I’m pitching, we’re going to win,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson’s work behind the plate was probably just as crucial to the Wildcats’ success as what he did on the mound.
His fourth inning single blast to right field with the bases loaded drove in two runs, and he ran home from third base for another score after Luella catcher Jeremie Little mishandled a Jon Goodman fastball.
Those three scores were part of a six-run inning that turned a 1-1 game into an 8-1 Lovejoy advantage. Flournoy also drove in one of his three RBIs in that inning on a single. Greg Tyson brought home two more in the sixth to complete Lovejoy’s scoring.
In its four wins, Lovejoy is averaging almost 13 runs per game. Three of their four victories have featured them scoring in double figures.
But the good news for Chatman — and perhaps not so much for future opponents — is that he still sees where the Wildcats bats can improve.
“We knew coming into the season that we could be a high scoring club,” Chatman said. “But we hadn’t done it yet. We’ve got two or three guys that we feel can really become great hitters for us. We’ve still got a couple of guys who haven’t hit their stride yet.”
Luella began to find a grove late in the game to make it interesting. After Nicholson struck out the first two Luella batters in the bottom of the seventh, he walked two others, which prompted Chatman to pull him, against Nicholson’s wishes.
“Coach said my pitch count was up to 125, and he was going to take me out,” Nicholson said. “I told him I still felt like I had a couple of strikes left. I felt like I had at least five more pitches and that’s all it would’ve taken.”
Instead, Luella took advantage of the pitching change to the tune of four runs in the sixth and seven innings combined.
With the bases loaded in the sixth, Jon Goodman ushered home Jon Bartlow on a single to cut the lead to 10-2. Then in the seventh, after Nicholson walked two batters, and two batters eventually were walked home, Bartlow batted in two runs to provide the final score.
Luella fell to 3-5 overall and 1-1 in Region 2-AAAAAA. The Lions will travel to Druid Hills Friday while Lovejoy will host Rockdale.