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Claxton battles for win over Portal

            CLAXTON – A few early runs were followed by a huge, 10-run fourth inning as Claxton outlasted Portal by a score of 14-9 Friday night.

            Sophomore Michael Peel battled through 5 1/3 innings and struck out eight to earn the win for the Tigers.

            “I give a lot of credit to Portal,” said Claxton coach Donny Sykes. “We jumped on them early, but they never gave up. They battled us all the way to the end. We may have won by five, but it felt like a one-run game most of the night.”

            Claxton was able to take an early lead without even swinging the bats.

            Portal starter Garrett Hodges struggled to find the strike zone early and issued four free passes in the first inning. Hodges loaded the bases with walks to Tyler Jenkins (4-for-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI), Peel and Rick Hall (1-for-2, 3 RBI), and a two-out walk to Chandler Jenkins pushed Tyler Jenkins across for a 1-0 Tiger lead.

            The Claxton offense came back strong again in the bottom of the second. After Hodges sat down the first two Tiger batters, Brandon Stanfield blasted a double to left center and Tyler Jenkins brought him in with a single to right. A walk and an infield single loaded the bases before Hall came through with a two-run single to put Claxton up 4-0 after two innings.

            For all of Claxton’s hard work, it took just one swing for the Panthers to draw even.

            Starting a two out rally of its own Portal stayed alive as Casey Ware drew a walk and Corey Walker came up with the Panthers’ first hit of the night. Jordan Dampier walked to load the bases before Nolan Clark (2-for-4, 4 RBI) launched a 1-2 Peel fastball over the fence in right center for a grand slam and a 4-4 tie.

            “Clark can really hit,” said Sykes. “We knew that coming in. We tried to keep it away from him, but Michael left one up in the zone and he made us pay. It was just one, mistake, but that’s what good hitters will do to you.”

            The tie stood for one more inning before Claxton blew the game wide open in the bottom of the fourth

            A walk, and error and a single loaded the bases for Peel, who singled to shortstop to drive in Tyler Brasell and give the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish.

            As Charlie Waters relieved Hodges, Portal’s control issues continued. Three walks and one hit batter – all with the bases loaded – built the lead to 9-4, and back-to-back doubles from Stanfield and Tyler Jenkins that tacked on three more. Peel reached on an error one batter later to become the tenth consecutive Tiger to reach base as Claxton owned a 14-4 lead after four innings.

            A two-run single from Chad Busby (2-for-4, 3 RBI) kept the mercy rule out of play as Portal crept to within 14-7, but Peel was able to avoid more danger.

            With the Panthers threatening again in the sixth, Tyler Jenkins relieved Peel, striking out Ware and Walker to get out of the jam.

            Portal was able to push two more across in the seventh, but Jenkins regrouped to finish off the Panthers before the lead was put in jeopardy.

            “Michael is our number-one guy and we’re very confident with him out on the mound,” said Sykes. “He gave us a good effort and then Tyler Jenkins was able to finish it off for us. He’s one of our senior leaders. It’s not an easy thing to come in late, but he handled himself well out there.”

            Claxton continues its Region 3-A schedule Tuesday as the Tigers hit the road to take on Savannah Country Day. The Panthers also get back to action Tuesday as they host Bryan County.