John Eddie Hodges pitched six innings of one-hit ball and the Blue Devil offense came alive in the late innings as Statesboro cruised past Brunswick by a score of 6-1 Friday evening at Mill Creek Regional Park.
Statesboro’s senior ace struck out six and allowed just one earned run as the Blue Devils (6-5, 2-1 Region 2-AAAA) won their second consecutive game.
Equally impressive for the Pirates (6-8, 0-3) was senior right-hander Nate Harsh. Hodges and Harsh battled each other through three scoreless innings to begin the game as neither offense could get a rally started.
“We were a little too excited at the plate early on,” said Statesboro coach Chris Bishop. “Later, we were able to settle down a bit and put better swings on the ball.”
Brunswick would strike first in the top of the fourth.
Hodges issued a pair of walks to Justin and Blake Smith before striking out Ryan Good and getting a groundout from Chas Strickland that put runners on the corners with two outs.
On a two-strike pitch to Austin Brown, Strickland took off for second base. Statesboro second baseman Quantae Huff raced to cover the bag, and a slow grounder off of Brown’s bat that would have been an easy third out crept into right field to bring home Justin Smith and give Brunswick a 1-0 lead.
The Devils responded immediately in the bottom half of the inning.
Chris Lusted hit a leadoff double and advanced to third base when he was interfered with after getting caught in a rundown on a grounder by Justin Mee. Josh Key then singled up the middle, scoring key and sending Chris Young – who was pinch-running for Mee – to third.
Haydon Rollins walked to load the bases as Hodges popped up a bunt and Huff struck out for the inning’s first two outs.
Harsh nearly escaped the jam, but Calk Minick was able to beat out a slow roller to second that scored Young and kept the Statesboro rally going.
Kendrick Thompson (3-for-4, 3 RBI) then extended the lead as he laced a single into left that scored Key and Rollins for a 4-1 Blue Devil lead.
“Kendrick is a good player right now, and I think he’s going to be a great player,” said Bishop. “(William) Golden has been producing a lot for us, but today, he struggled a little. K.T. was right there to pick him up and knock in some runs. We moved him into the outfield recently to get our best lineup onto the field and he’s really been making some plays in the field and at the plate. I think he can turn into a really special player.”
That was all the help Hodges needed, as he quickly got back into a groove. The lanky lefty retired six of the final seven Pirates that he faced, the only base runner coming courtesy of a Statesboro error.
“I was very impressed with John Eddie today,” said Bishop. “He’s been doing that for us every time we’ve sent him out there this year. We can’t ask for anything more than the kind of effort he gave us today.”
Lusted led off the bottom of the fifth with another double, and Mee immediately singled him home for a 5-1 lead.
The Devils got one more insurance run in the sixth inning as Thompson blasted an RBI double to deep center.
Having thrown over 100 pitches in his six innings of work, Hodges gave way to Minnick, who slammed the door on Brunswick in the seventh to seal the Blue Devil win.
Statesboro now faces another tough test as Effingham County – which was riding a six-game winning streak into Friday night – comes to town for a 4 p.m. showdown this afternoon.
“Effingham is either going to be riding high on a seven-game winning streak or ticked off because they just lost,” said Bishop. “Either way, we’re just going to go out there, play our game, and see how it works out.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.