First inning dooms Knights in 7-2 defeat to Wildcats

Wes McCard

March 14, 2014

The Upson-Lee Knights baseball team started the 2014 season blazing to a 4-0 record, however the Knights have now lost three games in a row and currently have a 6-4 record, and more importantly, a 3-2 record in Region 4 play.

After a tough 5-3 loss to Stockbridge last Friday night, Upson-Lee hosted the now 5-1 Wildcats from Locust Grove at Silvertown Ballpark. The Wildcats exploded with a four-run first inning to jump ahead of the Knights, and earn a 7-2 victory. Upson-Lee had a chance make a rally, but trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Knights left the bases loaded without bringing home a run, something that for coach Wayne Puckett has happened a little too often in the last few games.

“I feel like we’re still pitching fairly well, and defensively we have been pretty good,” said Puckett. “It’s getting those hits with runners in scoring position that is giving us some problems. We are taking too many first pitch strikes and getting ourselves in an early holes during at bats. Pitchers want to work with the count in their favor. We have to realize that many times the first pitch may be the best one you see at the plate. I don’t want the guys to go up there and just swing at anything, but we have to be ready to pull the trigger when we get a good pitch to hit. We had trouble getting a bunt down to move a runner in scoring position and we left the bases loaded again tonight. Good teams have to plate runs in that situation. It’s still early in the season and I have confidence the guys will make the adjustments.”

Freshman Kalen Puckett toed the rubber for the Knights to start the game, and in the top of the first inning, the freshman was hit hard, but settled down after the first inning. The Wildcats’ Cortez McDowell, who is committed to Tennessee for football, led the game off with a booming triple to center field. Locust Grove added a double and two singles in the inning, and by the time the Knights recorded the third out of the inning, the Wildcats had a 4-0 lead.

“You got to tip your hat to their players in that first inning,” stated Puckett. “They came out and hit the ball and hit the ball on some good pitches. I felt like Kalen was up in the zone early in the game, but they hit some pretty decent pitches. That’s what good teams do.”

Upson-Lee got on the board in the bottom of the second inning, starting with freshman Zack Gooden being hit by a pitch. Kaleb Allen drew a walk, then Gooden took third base and Allen took second on a wild pitch. After a pop up on the infield, Elijah Hill came to the plate and earned a walk to load the bases, Kalen Puckett followed with the third walk of the inning, scoring Gooden from third base. Upson-Lee junior Kyle Kelly ripped a RBI single to right field to score Allen and cut the Wildcats’ lead to 4-2.

Puckett settled down over the next few innings, but the Knights’ offense was non-existent until the bottom of the fourth inning. Trailing 4-2, Kaleb Allen was hit by a pitch for a team-leading eighth time of the season. However, Allen was picked off on a controversial call at first base. Ben Spillers followed with a walk, and then a single from Kalen Puckett. With runners at first and second base, Kyle Kelly added his second hit of the game, but the ball was fielded by the right fielder in shallow right field, with Spillers having to hold at third base. Matt Crews made solid contact on a pitch, but unfortunately for the Knights, a nice play from the Locust Grove shortstop ended the Knights’ inning with the bases loaded.

The Knights seemed to have all of the air taken out of their sail after ending the fourth with nothing to show for it. Locust Grove added a run in the top of the fifth inning on four hits, and added two more runs in the top of the seventh inning on two more hits, earning a 7-2 victory.

Kalen Puckett got the loss, tossing five innings, giving up 11 hits, striking out one batter and allowing one walk. Puckett gave up five runs, with three of those runs being earned. Dalton Strom pitched two innings, allowing two hits and two runs.

Kyle Kelly led the Knights with two hits and a RBI, while Puckett also added a hit and RBI. Logan Fowler and Matt Crews also added hits for the Knights in the game, while Kaleb Allen and Zack Gooden scored runs for Upson-Lee in the loss.

The Knights faced off with Lamar County in Barnesville on Thursday, but the results of that game were not available by press time. The Knights will travel to Jonesboro today to face the Cardinals in a Region 4 match-up.

Wes McCard can be contacted at (706) 647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.