HONAKER, Va. – A 17-day layoff did not hamper the Honaker Tigers on Monday as they got solid pitching and timely hitting in a 12-5 victory over J.I. Burton in the first round of the VHSL Region 1D baseball playoffs.
“Right now, we’re just taking the games one by one,” said Honaker second baseman Ethan Compton said. “We just want to come out of every game with a win. I was really happy today, we hit the ball really well, everyone was tracking it.”
Honaker ace Alex Barton got the start and pitched into the sixth inning before he left with his pitch count at 98, so he could be used later this week if needed. Barton had a shutout going until the sixth.
“It was a little difficult getting back in and throwing to a live batter in a game,” Barton said. “I was a little out of rhythm and trying to get back into it. We’ve really worked in practice and that helped a lot.”
Barton finished with 10 strikeouts, but uncharacteristically issued four bases on balls. He had seven full counts and didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning.
“Alex is a bulldog,” said Honaker coach Chris Anderson. “We realized there would be some rust here and there, I’m sure the layoff didn’t help his sharpness any. But when you can come out there and be very effective without your best stuff and have your team in a great position to win, that’s why he’s our number one.”
Compton, Dylan Barrett, and Barton had run-scoring hits in the first inning as the Tigers took a 3-0 lead. They added three more in the third with one run scoring on an error and the other two on RBIs by Barton and Jax Horn as Honaker went up 6-0.
J.I. Burton (7-6) came alive in the sixth, when four runs crossed the plate. Chris Branham had a two-run single in the offensive uprising for the Raiders.
“For the most part, we kept fighting,” Burton coach Jacob Caudill said. “This group right here will never give up in a game, no matter how many runs are scored against us.
“Hat’s off to Coach Anderson and his team, they came out here and hit the baseball and we couldn’t match them with hits.”
Branham was 2-for-3 and had a double, the only extra base hit for the Raiders.
“Branham is a good hitter,” said Caudill. “He’s patient in the box and he finds the gaps.”
With the lead cut to 6-4, Honaker rebounded in the bottom of the sixth. Six runs scored on five hits as 10 men came to bat. Compton had a critical two-run single to finish the day 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. T.J. Hubbard went 2-for-2 with a RBI. Jayson Mullins had two hits, including a double.
“The top of the order, [Hubbard, Compton, Mullins] really did the job,” Anderson said. “We always talk to them about putting pressure on teams. All those guys were very aggressive at the plate and made Burton make plays. That’s what gets our offense going.”
Hubbard also came to the mound in the seventh and recorded the final three outs with the bases loaded to leave the three runners stranded.
Honaker (9-3) travels to Chilhowie in the Region 1D semifinals on Wednesday. The two teams split contests in the regular season, so it should be interesting.
“The rubber match,” commented Anderson. “We got them up there and they got us at our place. I know Coach [Jeff] Robinson was here tonight. I’m sure he took some notes, and no one prepares a team like him. It should be a fun one. I’ll be excited to see how it turns out.”