Hawks score 19 runs in program-opening pounding of Jaguars, earn 1st win in school history

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PITTSBORO — The Seaforth Hawks didn’t just burst onto the scene in their program-opening baseball win last Wednesday.

They promptly decimated the River Mill Jaguars in what was an Opening-Day explosion, 19-6, to begin the program’s first season with a “1” in the win column.

In just four offensive innings — with the game ending in five after the mercy rule kicked in — the Hawks racked up 10 hits and 13 walks, amassing as large as a 15-run lead after thrashing the Jaguars for 12 runs in the first inning.

It was night fit for celebration, with Seaforth High School principal Tripp Crayton throwing out the first pitch in school history, followed by the program’s first win.

“A lot of hard work, a lot of effort have been put in by these guys with us being a first-year school,” Landon Jones, the Hawks’ head coach, said after winning his coaching debut. “These guys have had a big part in helping build this field, so to see us get to reap the benefits of this field and all of the hard work come to fruition and result in some runs, it was really encouraging.”

As has been the case with all of Seaforth’s athletics this year, the baseball roster is strictly made up of underclassmen — nine sophomores and 10 freshmen, to be exact.

And according to Jones, only three of them have ever played in a high school baseball game prior to last Wednesday night.

“I got on them today, I said, ‘Hey, let’s the nerves out early,’ and based on the way we warmed up, it looked like those nerves were there,” Jones said. “But I was also feeling it with this being my first game as a head coach, so we were feeling it together.”

Those nerves showed themselves early with Hawks’ sophomore starting pitcher Anders Johansson (1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 4 K) who walked the first two Jaguars batters, then allowed back-to-back hits — an RBI double from senior Cameron Cutterloh and RBI single from junior Matthew Wolfe — before hitting senior Logan O’Hara with a pitch.

However, after giving up 3 runs and five total baserunners, Johansson took the advice of his coach. He locked in, shook off the nerves and struck out the next three batters in a row to end the inning.

He’d only face one batter in the top of the second — freshman Jackson Webster, who he also struck out — before Jones took him out after 42 pitches, seemingly impressed with the way he bounced back.

“Anders is this really cerebral, high-IQ player and I knew when those challenges hit that first inning — the plan was to only throw him one inning — but I needed him to see that that first inning isn’t where he’s at,” Jones said of his starter. “He gave up a few walks early, so we wanted to bring him back out and he responded, struck the first guy out to start the second inning and I was just really proud of him because he works harder than anyone.”

When it came time for Seaforth to take the plate for the first time in program history, the Hawks wasted no time making it memorable.

After a pair of walks and a strikeout to open the bottom of the first, Seaforth sophomore Dane O’Neill walked to load the bases with one out.

Then, in what’s one of the most anticlimactic ways to score your first-ever run, Hawks freshman Cade Elmore took off from third base on a passed ball during freshman Griff Burk’s plate appearance, crossing home plate and becoming the first run scored in Seaforth history.

Burk walked, loading the bases once more as the Jaguars held on to a 3-1 lead with one out.

Then, the fireworks started to fly.

In the following at-bat, Seaforth freshman Daniel White (2-for-4, 2B, 3B, 4 RBI) smashed a deep shot to left field, landing just out of the outfielder’s reach and rolling toward the fence.

The crowd hollered as two runs scored and White strolled into second base, tying the game at 3-3 with a two-run double.

“In the first inning, he was timid and his first swing was timid,” Jones said, “but with his true power and athleticism and ability as a baseball player, it was really encouraging to see him drive the ball a few times, because he’s a kid who’s been working at it and has all of the capability in the world. Sometimes, he’s just got to get through that first swing.”

White’s big hit was just the beginning.

Burk and White then scored on two separate passed balls during freshman Joshua Brown’s plate appearance, giving the Hawks a 5-3 lead with just one out.

In what was an imperfect inning for Wolfe, the Jaguars’ starting pitcher, he proceeded to walk Elmore in his second at-bat of the inning with the bases loaded, putting the Hawks up, 6-3, and ending his night as head coach Nick Larsen relieved him of his duties.

His final statline included just 0.1 innings pitched, two hits, eight earned runs and eight walks as he was never truly able to get into a rhythm against the well-disciplined Hawks.

But River Mill sophomore Connor Holyfield didn’t have it much easier.

He faced Johansson (2-for-2, 2B, 3B, 5 RBI) as his first batter, who promptly rocketed a triple to deep left-center field to clear the bases, give the Hawks a 9-3 lead and deliver a blow to Holyfield’s confidence in one swing of the bat.

Seaforth collected two more hits off of Holyfield in the first inning, including an RBI single by O’Neill and a two-RBI triple from White, who was on fire in his first career game.

When the time finally came for the Jaguars to hit in the top of the second, it was a 12-3 game and practically out of reach.

“It just took a little bit for these guys to realize that they belong on this stage,” Jones said. “And hopefully, as the season builds, they’ll see that even more and play into it, but it was really cool to see them flip that switch after giving up a couple of runs in the fist inning. … After that first inning, I walked back into the dugout from the coach’s box and it just felt like our guys believed a little bit more.”

The second inning was more of the same for the Hawks, who allowed just one run on an error in the top of the inning, but led off the bottom half with a walk and four straight hits, including an RBI single from Elmore, a two-RBI double from Johansson and another double from sophomore Tanner Morgan.

Burk grounded into a sacrifice out to score Johansson just before White struck out to end the inning, giving the Hawks a 16-4 lead.

After a 1-2-3 inning for Hawks freshman Brylee Cothren on the mound in the third, the Hawks went to work in the bottom half, scoring another three insurance runs off of an Elmore two-RBI single — thanks to two lead-off walks — and an RBI double from O’Neill to round out the scoring for Seaforth and make it 19-4.

River Mill scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning on an error-filled inside-the-park home run from sophomore Chasen Phillips on an uncharacteristically poor sequence from the Hawks, but the game ended two batters later with Morgan, now pitching, striking out the final pair of batters to secure the 19-6 victory.

It was nearly the best season-opening night a new program could ask for, especially for a team with as much inexperience and youth as the Hawks.

“What’s really cool about where we are as a program is that every game, every at-bat, everything we do is laying the foundation of what it is,” he continued. “I tell them all the time, there aren’t really any bad habits in this program yet. … It presents a cool opportunity for us to get to work hard and really set the tone for what we want the program to be.”

Seaforth kept the train rolling two days later against the N.C. School of Science & Math Unicorns, 6-3, last Friday, catapulting the Hawks to a 2-0 start to the season.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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