After a recent spurt in region play, Statesboro ventured out of the confines of its normal rivals and suffered a setback, falling to Alexander out of Atlanta by a score of 10-1 Wednesday evening at Mill Creek Regional Park.
The lopsided loss came as an unwelcome reminder of early season struggles for the Blue Devils (4-11, 2-5 Region 2-AAAA) who have competed near the .500 mark since dropping seven of their first eight games to begin the season.
"I think that we just ran up against a very good team," said SHS coach Chris Bishop. "Honestly, we didn’t play all that bad. We used a whole bunch of guys out on the mound, but (Alexander) was able to get some rallies started and we couldn’t get much done at the plate."
Kendrick Thompson gave Statesboro an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when his double off the top of the wall in left center scored Quantae Huff from second base, but Cougars starter Garrett Hays allowed just two more hits in his five innings of effective work on the mound.
Alexander quickly struck back as a familiar foe – lack of control and consistency – reared its head on Blue Devil pitchers.
Using a new pitcher in each inning to keep its arms fresh, SHS ran into trouble in the top of the second when Trey Robinson surrendered a leadoff single to Jake Adams before hitting or walking the next four Cougar batters.
The latter two free passes forced in a run each for a 2-1 Alexander lead, and when Sean Blakely relieved Robinson, Cody Griggs lifted a sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 advantage.
"We just gave them a little too much," said Bishop. "We put 10 guys on base by either a walk or hit by pitch and six of those came around to score. It’s tough to stay in front when that starts to happen."
The Devils found more trouble in the third with Thompson on the hill as Gavin Peters led off with a single. Dempsey Abernathy then hit a shot to right center that got past the glove of Heydon Rollins. Peters came in to score and the relay throw in to third base sailed into the SHS dugout, allowing Abernathy to come in and make it 5-1.
"In our last few games, we faced some teams that were more free-swinging," said Bishop. "Alexander was disciplined. They laid off of close pitches and waited for balls that were easier to drive."
Trevor Billings capped a three-run fourth inning for the Cougars with a two-out, two-run single up the middle and then relieved Hayes in the bottom of the fifth.
Devil batters were never able to settle into a groove as they accounted for just five hits on the night and saw only one runner reach as far as second base after the third inning.
"We're still a pretty young team," said Bishop. "Alexander's pitchers had good fastballs and some good breaking pitches and they pitched backwards through some counts. That sort of thing is tough for a bunch of freshmen and sophomore hitters who haven't seen much of that before.
Statesboro returns to region play for the final three games of the regular season.
Statesboro needs to catch fire in a hurry to keep any hopes of a state playoff bid alive, but any number of possibilities remain as all teams in 2-AAAA have three sub-region games remaining on the schedule.
The Devils travel to Lakeside Friday before returning home for their final two matchups.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.