Not only did the Central High School hurler get his first career varsity start Wednesday evening, the sophomore southpaw earned his first varsity victory, to boot.
Working four innings and yielding just one run on three hits with three strikeouts, Kinnard gave Lion coach Wesley Shiver just what he needed en route to a 5-3 win over Bowdon, making for quite a memorable sweet 16.
“The first time he’s pitched varsity — and he started the game, came out and did a great job and gave us a chance. You know, he threw strikes when we needed to and helped himself out a couple of times and made a couple of big picks. I couldn’t be more proud of a young man in filling a void for us right there,” Shiver said.
What may stand out the most in Kinnard’s effort was his three pick-offs through the first three innings, getting one in the first and back-to-back pick-offs in the top of the third to keep the Red Devils (3-2) off the bags early.
Central (2-5) capitalized on some early Bowdon miscues in the field, as well, where four errors in the first two innings opened the door to an early 5-1 Lion lead against Red Devil starter Tyler McDaniel, who proved to be the tough-luck loser in this one.
The junior right-hander gave a stellar effort, tossing all six innings, yielding just three hits and two earned runs with 10 strikeouts. But the early errors came back to bite him in the end, much to the chagrin of first-year Bowdon coach Todd Eubanks.
“You just can’t say enough about that performance he had. He gave up two hits in the first inning and doesn’t give up another one until late in the game. That’s a pretty good ball game,” Eubanks said.
The Lions got four runs in the bottom of the first after Blake Reese led off by reaching on a passed ball-third strike and Spencer Lewis drew a walk. That set up a two-run double by Lion catcher Wesley Long, which was followed by an RBI single from first baseman Dalton Wyble in the next at-bat. Central added its fourth run on a fielding error and would get just one hit the rest of the night, adding another unearned run in the bottom of the second.
Shiver said it was huge for his team to capitalize early, especially with the way McDaniel was rolling on the hill the rest of the way.
“We got some guys on base early and we were able to hit the baseball early. Fortunately for us, we were able to take advantage of their mistakes and push some runs across. We had the big inning and gave ourselves a chance to win. [McDaniel] settled in on the mound and did an excellent job and gave them a chance to win. You’ve got to give them credit for bouncing back and giving them a chance to win,” Shiver said.
Eubanks said while the early-inning errors hurt, he was proud to see his team fight back and give itself a chance.
“We’re still learning. Those are coaching things that we can fix. We’re still a young team that’s learning how to play and we’re going to show up [today] and see what happens,” Eubanks said. “They didn’t quit on us. They didn’t quit and they gave us the best effort they had right there. They played seven innings of baseball the best we could and it’s just a mental thing. You know, we’ve got a lot of first-year varsity players that are learning how to play the game and we’re getting there.”
After Bowdon got a run in the top of the second on an RBI single from freshman center fielder Curt Eidson and the Lions scored their unearned run in the home half, neither team was able to muster much offense until late.
Bowdon loaded the bases in the top of the fifth on three walks, but Central reliever Brandon Justice wiggled out of the jam with an inning-ending double play to keep it a 5-1 affair.
The Red Devils made one last push in the top of the seventh, getting a two-run single from Sawyer Lane and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate before Justice dug deep and got a strikeout to end the game.
Justice, also just a sophomore, earned the save with a three-inning effort, allowing two runs on one hit with four walks, a hit batsman and three strikeouts.
“Our biggest thing over the last few games has been our relief guys. Our starters have been giving us good innings and we had to come in and finish and we finally got enough strikes to finish the game. I was proud of Brandon for the way he showed his character right there in getting that last batter. So hat’s off to another sophomore. We’re trying to get them experience so we can move into region play,” Shiver said.
The Lions head to LaGrange on Friday for a 5:30 p.m. contest, while the Red Devils open Region 5-AA play today at 5 p.m. at rival Bremen, which continues a stretch of four road games in four days.
“We don’t have time to sit around and lick our wounds. We’ve got two region games back-to-back. We go to Bremen [today], and it’s one of those ball games where we just have to go home, flush this one and get focused for [today] and show up and see what we can do,” Eubanks said.