CONCORD – Earned runs and unearned runs are easy to measure in baseball. But the runs a team scores with the help of walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches are statistically off the radar.
Tallying fewer base hits than runs, the Northwest Cabarrus Trojans rounded the bases and scored in a variety of styles, capturing an easy 10-4 win over visiting Central Cabarrus Tuesday.
After a season-opening non-conference loss to China Grove Carson last week, Northwest Cabarrus has won its first two South Piedmont 3A games and is tied for first place. Central Cabarrus has lost its first two games, both in the conference.
“They play hard,” Northwest coach Joe Hubbard said of his players. “And if you get a group of guys to play hard and buy in to some things, then you’ve got something. They enjoy being around each other. Practice, they get after it. They want to win, and that’s half the battle.”
Scoring three times before recording an out, the Trojans’ offense built an early lead for pitcher Michael Specht and had a 9-0 lead through three innings before the Vikings answered. The junior right-hander struck out seven over four frames in his first start of the season.
Specht survived the first inning in which Sam Yelton’s single pinballed off the glove of Northwest Cabarrus first baseman Michael Gracer and the bare hand of second baseman Chase Ervin. After a walk, Specht recorded his second strikeout and induced an infield popup to end the inning.
Conversely, Central Cabarrus’ defense betrayed its starter, sophomore righty Alex Darbutt, committing errors to allow the first two Trojan hitters to reach base. Gracer followed with a run-scoring groundball single to left field in which Caden Grider beat a throw home with a headfirst slide. Right-handed hitting Jacob Foggin scored two more runs with an inside-out single to right field.
Specht pitched out of another jam in the third, which started with speedster Kaleb Koepfler beating out a grounder to the hole between third and short. Yelton rolled a single through the middle, giving the Vikings runners on first and second for the second time in the early innings.
Specht rebounded nicely, getting Garrison Bullock to chase a third strike low and away, then freezing Kipp Thornton on a third-strike curveball on the inside corner. A harmless groundout forced the third out at second base.
“We started off with mostly fastballs,” said Specht. “So in the later innings, when we went back through the lineup they, weren’t ready for the curveball. They kept freezing them up, especially when I threw it back-to-back they weren’t expecting it at all.”
Added Hubbard: “He went out there and got ahead with most batters. He was able to throw his curveball for a strike most of the time, plus we got him a good little lead there that calmed him down a bit. He just does what Michael does, which is pound the strike zone.”
Darbutt got in trouble in the third inning by walking two batters and hitting two more, all with one out. With the bases loaded, a grounder from Weston Smith’s bat yielded an out but allowed Mason Murdock to score. In review, Northwest Cabarrus’ first six batters of the inning produced two runs without the benefit of a base hit or anyone reaching by error.
The Trojans scored four more runs in the third by traditional methods. Brady Nelson plated a run with an infield single, Grider knocked one in with a double to left-center, and Cole Pletcher drove a two-run double to the leftfield corner.
Darbutt was also making his first start of the season. Central Cabarrus coach Ronnie Bost said Darbutt “has good stuff” and will get another start next week.
“We were hoping tonight that (Darbutt) could get us into the fourth or fifth inning with keeping the game close and giving us a chance,” said Bost. “We were looking at 75 to 80 pitches. I think he ended up with 77. His pitch count got up there in that last inning, so we had to make a change there.”
Right fielder Christian Thomas, batting ninth, foiled the Trojans’ shutout bid, driving in Jack Swan with a double over the head of left fielder Caden Parker with two outs in the fourth inning. Thomas also scored a run in the seventh after singling off Murdock, who relieved Specht in the fifth inning.
Central Cabarrus 000 200 2 -- 4 7 3
Northwest Cabarrus 306 010 x – 10 9 1
Central Cabarrus hits – Caleb Koepfler, Sam Yelton 2, Garrison Bullock, Jack Swan, Christian Thomas 2.
Central Cabarrus RBIs – Thomas, Yelton, Bullock
Northwest Cabarrus hits – Caden Grider, Cole Pletcher, Michael Gracer, Jacob Foggin, Mason Murdock 2, Chase Ervin, Weston Smith, Brady Nelson.
Northwest Cabarrus RBIs – Grider, Pletcher, Gracer, Foggin 2, Caden Parker, Smith, Nelson.
WP: Michael Specht (4 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 7 K)
LP: Alex Darbutt (3 IP, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 1 K)