Baseball at Spring Garden is off to a solid start. The Panthers were 5-2 entering Tuesday’s game at Sand Rock and held leads in their losses at Cherokee County on Mar. 2 and at Glencoe on Mar. 9. Early wins included an 11-4 victory over archrival Cedar Bluff, a 6-1 win against Sand Rock and a 16-6 win over Gaylesville to make the Panthers 3-1 against opponents from Cherokee County. Spring Garden opened with a 4-3 victory over Class 4A Saks on the road and followed that with a 10-0 shutout of Collinsville.
Head coach Barrett Ragsdale has 16 varsity players this year – four seniors, seven juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
“For the most part we’ve got a pretty veteran team. Most of my guys are doing what I expected them to do,” Ragsdale said Tuesday late morning.
The seniors are outfielder Riley Austin, the usual starter in left field; second baseman-pitcher Austin Finch; outfielder Brian Kelley, usually in right field; and third baseman-pitcher Austin Slayton.
Christian Crider, Michael Floyd, Dylan Gowens, Luke Ivey, Gaines Petty, Tyler Sudberry and Nathaniel Wells are juniors. Crider began the season as a pitcher but an injury will probably sideline him the rest of the way. Floyd plays first base and pitches. Gowens is an outfielder. Ivey generally starts in center field. Petty plays as an outfielder. Sudberry is a first baseman. Wells also plays first base.
Sophomore Lucas Leighton is a second baseman. Classmate Colby Slayton is a shortstop,
The freshmen are pitcher-infielder Weston Kirk, infielder-outfielder Kenneth Petty and catcher Luke Welsh.
The biggest issue for the Panthers this season is finding replacements for pitchers Joe Rogers and Dawson Broome, mainstays at the top of the rotation for several years, who graduated last year.
“I’ve really had five guys (Floyd, Finch, Kirk, Austin Slayton and Colby Slayton) step up pitching this year that have thrown really well,” Ragsdale said.
Spring Garden’s most recent victory came at home against Gaylesville on Mar. 8. The Panthers put two runs on the board in the first inning. In the second inning, they took complete control of the game when 13 batters came to the plate and seven scored. Finch and Floyd singled and Welsh walked to load the bases ahead of Kelley’s two-run base hit. Austin doubled to drive in another run. Austin Slayton added an RBI single and Finch drove in the final two runs of the second inning with a base hit.
Spring Garden scored two runs in the third and Ragsdale began to substitute. The Panthers got an unearned run in the fourth. Leighton walked and scored on a base hit by Welsh in the fifth and Spring Garden led 13-6 entering the home half of the sixth inning.
Gaines Petty singled to start the sixth. With one away, Colby Slayton’s base hit sent Petty home. Austin Slayton’s double scored his younger brother to make it 15-6. Wells’ sacrifice fly got the elder Slayton across and ended the game on the 10-run rule.
Ivey, Austin Slayton, Finch and Kelley had two RBIs apiece. Austin, Colby Slayton, Wells and Welsh each had one RBI. Finch was 3-for-3 and scored twice. Austin and Welsh each went 2-for-2. Austin also walked and scored three runs. Ivey, Colby Slayton, Austin Slayton and Floyd all had two hits apiece. Kelley, Kirk and Gaines Petty each ended with one hit. Floyd was the winning pitcher.
At Glencoe on Mar. 9, the Panthers fell to the Yellow Jackets 3-2 in eight innings. Spring Garden scored a run in the first inning when Austin singled, Ivey walked and Colby Slayton singled to load the bases. Finch drew a two-out walk that scored Austin. The Panthers loaded the bases again in the top of the sixth inning with no one out but couldn’t push a run home. After seven innings, each team had one run.
Kirk started Spring Garden’s eighth with a single, advanced to third and scored on Floyd’s ground ball out for a 2-1 lead. Ragsdale said the Panthers got two outs in the bottom of the eighth and had two strikes on the batter before a flare over second base drove in two runs for Glencoe.
“That was a tough one to let slip away,” Ragsdale said. “I think we left seven runners in scoring position.”
Austin and Colby Slayton each had two singles against the Yellow Jackets. Finch had one base hit.
Spring Garden plays at Gaston on Thursday and at Ragland on Friday. The Panthers start Class 1A, Area 10 play at Faith Christian on Monday then host the Lions on Tuesday.