HAGERSTOWN — The Jay Hale era of Hagerstown High School varsity baseball began Monday evening with a game against visiting Frankton under sunny skies, breezy conditions, and temperatures hovering around 60 degrees.
Both teams struggled a bit with errors in their season opener, but the Eagles fared a little better at the plate than did the host Tigers and Frankton went back to Madison County with a 6-3 victory in its pocket.
“It’s just a process of finding out where we stand both offensively and defensively and filling the holes as we go forward from there,” new Tiger Head Coach Jay Hale remarked afterward. “We made four or five errors that led to three or four runs for them (Eagles). Those were mental mistakes that can be corrected.”
The game ended at 8:02 p.m. and took 2:17 to complete, longer than some nine-inning major league baseball games.
After COVID-19 concerns wiped out the entire 2020 season, both teams were happy just to be back out on the diamond playing a regular season game.
Hagerstown would have been a veteran team last season, possibly a state-title contender in Class 2A, but is young for the 2021 campaign.
The Tigers started a veteran on the mound, senior Dominic Anderson, and Anderson walked the Eagles’ lead-off batter, Tyler Bates, on five pitches in the top of the first inning.
But Bates was forced out at second base on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Braydn Douglas, and Anderson fanned the next two Frankton batters to get out of the half-inning unscathed.
Eagle senior starting pitcher Sam Hartley retired Hagerstown 1-2-3 in the last of the first on two strikeouts sandwiched around a groundout.
Anderson walked the second and fourth Eagle hitters, Evan Webb and Ryan Smith, in the top of the second inning, but fanned hitters 1, 3, and 5 to retire the side with no runs scoring.
Hartley retired the Tigers in order in the bottom of the second, the final two by strikeout.
Reed Shaffer came in to pitch for Hagerstown in the top of the third inning, induced a ground ball out to the first hitter he faced and struck out the next Frankton batter for the second out. Shaffer issued an eight-pitch walk to Trevor McCorkle and Bubba Nunley came in to courtesy run for him.
Hartley reached base on an infield hit, Nunley moved to second base, and Cade Thomas came in to courtesy run for Hartley. But the next batter’s grounder forced out Thomas at second base, and the visitors didn’t score and left two runners stranded.
Frankton gifted two runs to the Tigers in the last of the third. With one away, Hartley walked Dylan Bryant on six pitches and Shaffer on five. Cole Tracy’s grounder was bobbled for an error, and the bases were loaded.
Hartley whiffed the next batter on six pitches for the second out, but then issued consecutive bases on balls to Anderson and Collin Beaty, which enabled Bryant and Shaffer to cross the plate for a 2-0 Hagerstown advantage.
Hartley fanned the next batter on seven pitches to retire the side, and the Tigers stranded three runners.
Hagerstown was a generous host in the top of the fourth, as errors on its part gave the Eagles three runs and the lead.
Evan Webb led off for Frankton, and a throwing error on his ground ball enabled him to reach first base safely. Webb was forced out at second base on Grant Buck’s fielder’s choice ground ball, and Buck moved to second on a groundout by Smith.
Shaffer was one out away from getting out of the half-inning unscathed, but a throwing error on Gage Rastetter’s grounder enabled Buck to score and Rastetter was safe at first base.
Bates doubled to right centerfield plating Rastetter, and a single to right field by Douglas drove in Bates for a 3-2 Frankton lead.
A fine throw from catcher Beatty to second baseman Quaid Mull cut down Douglas trying to steal second for the third out of the inning.
Webb came in to pitch for the Eagles in the last of the fourth and retired the Tigers in order on a line-out, fly ball out, and a foul-out to the Frankton first baseman.
Shaffer issued full-count walks to the first two Eagle batters he faced, McCorkle and Hartley, in the top of the fifth inning.
It appeared Shaffer might get out of the inning unscathed when Ethan Friend lined the ball hard to Mull, who caught it and tossed the ball to shortstop Ben Williams at second base, doubling McCorkle off the bag for the second out of the frame.
But Shaffer balked Hartley to second base, and he scored on an infield single by Webb to boost the Frankton advantage to 4-2. Webb took second base on the throw.
Mull came to the mound to pitch for Hagerstown and struck out the first batter he faced on five pitches to end the half-inning.
Webb retired the first two batters he faced in the last of the fifth on a strikeout and pop-up to the shortstop in short left centerfield.
Mull then got plunked by a Webb pitch and Anderson lined a solid single to left field for Hagerstown’s first hit of the game. But Webb fanned the next batter on five pitches to get out of the half-inning, and the Tigers left two runners on base.
Smith led off for Frankton in the top of the sixth inning and reached second after a two-base throwing error on his ground ball. Mull retired the next two Eagle hitters by groundout and fly ball out with Smith holding at second base.
Douglas then stepped to the plate and belted a double to deep right field, driving in Smith for a 5-2 Frankton lead. A fine throw from catcher Beatty picked off Douglas at second base for the third out.
Webb retired the first two Tiger batters in the bottom of the sixth via strikeout and groundout. Kayne Ervin then got an infield hit for the hosts before the next batter grounded out 1-3 to end the inning.
McCorkle doubled to centerfield leading off the top of the seventh inning. Thomas came in to courtesy-run for McCorkle, took third base on Hartley’s groundout, and scored on a 4-3 groundout off the bat of Friend for a 6-2 Eagles lead.
Mull issued a two-out walk on six pitches to Webb and plunked consecutive hitters Buck and Smith with pitches to fill the sacks.
Williams came to the hill as the Tigers’ fourth hurler of the game and struck out the next batter on four pitches, so Frankton left the bases loaded.
“We found out we have some pitching,” Hale said. “It’s just a matter of them stepping up and throwing strikes and us making plays in the field in key situations.”
Webb struck out the first Hagerstown batter he faced in the bottom of the seventh, but Tracy reached base on an error, Mull walked on five pitches, and Anderson singled to centerfield, filling the sacks with only one away.
Beatty came to the plate as the potential tying run, and his 6-3 groundout plated Tracy, pulling the Tigers to within 6-3. But the next batter flew out in short left field to end the game as darkness started to descend on the field.
“We preach that if we trail near the end of the game, it’s just one hit at a time and one base at a time for us to get back in it,” Hale added. “Our goal is to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season.”
Hagerstown plays host Richmond this evening at McBride Stadium.