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Clutch hits help Blue Devils

    Timely hitting, solid defense and much improved pitching have given the Statesboro baseball team a boost early in the season.
    All were on display Friday night as the Blue Devils (3-1) pulled out a 6-2 win over Southeast Bulloch at Mill Creek Regional Park.
    Two-out run production fueled the fire for Statesboro as five of their six runs came in with no outs to spare.
    “We played well in many different areas tonight,” said SHS coach Jim Simmons. “Offensively, we got a lot of hits when we needed them. I thought we did a very good job of running the bases and drove in the runs when we had the opportunity to do so.”
    Tied at 0-0 in the second inning, senior third baseman Quante Huff got the clutch hitting started. Huff fought off an inside fastball from SEB starter Gage Weaver, dropping a blooper on the left field line for a two-run double.
    Clinging to a 3-2 lead with two out in the bottom of the fifth, the Devils broke out again. After a double to left by Statesboro starter Kendrick Thompson, senior catcher Justin Mee drove him home with another double scorched down the left field line. Colin Chance followed with an RBI single and a Yellow Jacket error allowed Chance to come home to blow the game open.
    “Situational hitting is incredibly important,” Simmons said. “We were going up against a very good team in SEB. In those kind of games, you’ve got to take advantage of every chance to score runs.”
    For a team that struggled on the mound all throughout the 2011 season, the Devils have received strong pitching so far this season.
    Thompson had a few control issues Friday – walking three, hitting a batter, and allowing two runs via wild pitch – but also showed electric stuff, striking out three and limiting the Jackets to two hits in his three innings of work.
    From there, sophomore Will Stewart took over on the hill. Though just a sophomore, Stewart picked apart the dangerous SEB lineup, recording four strikeouts and skillfully getting out of a fifth inning, bases loaded jam.
    “K.T. and Will Stewart did a heck of a job tonight and Tyler Brown closed it out for us,” Simmons said. “We’ve got all but one of our pitchers back from last season. These guys got thrown into the fire last season, but you can see now that there’s another year of physical and mental maturity on them.”
    Stewart went three strong innings to set the Devils up for a win, then brought in Tyler Brown to slam the door. Brown allowed just one hit, but got the Jackets to go quietly to close the book on the Statesboro win.
    Aside from the top of the third inning, where SEB plated a pair of runs on wild pitches while Thompson walked Weaver, Statesboro’s pitching and defense was rock solid.
    Chance cut out a potential run in the second inning, making a strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to narrowly beat Aaron Rowe to the bag at first base. In the fourth, the Jackets’ first two batters reached, but a running catch in right field by Ben Saunders and a sure-handed play by Jackson Ware at second snuffed out the rally.
    The Devils will try to keep the momentum going tomorrow as they travel to Swainsboro for a doubleheader. The first game begins at 10 a.m. with Game Two following 30 minutes after the opener.

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.