SPORTS RECAP: Raiders hang on to beat Jones Co. in home debut

The Courier Herald – February 24, 2021

    Looking back, it was probably the most important play of the entire night, though in the moment, West Laurens' turn of a 6-4-3 double play seemed as routine as an afternoon at practice. 
   The injury-stretched Raider infield was missing its two usual starters in the middle Monday night, down shortstop Matthew Mebane (who missed the game while nursing a minor strain) and second baseman Sean Gorney (who had just moved to pitch on a late call to the bullpen). That left senior Colton Scott at short and sophomore Camden Thomas on either side of the horn as Jones County pinch hitter Colin Chapman hit a soft ground ball just wide of the second base bag, with teammate Aiden Payne on first. 
   The play came off flawlessly, as Scott tossed to second and Thomas – the critical link – followed with an exact relay to first to take care of both Grayhounds, who were among the fastest in a speedy Jones County lineup. 
   The two key outs, amid the top of the seventh inning, were much needed as West Laurens clung to a 2-0 lead. But the bigger sigh of relief came for the Raiders after the next at-bat, when two-out Grayhound hitter Keegan Baxter took a 3-1 pitch out of the yard on a line-drive homer to left center. 
   The solo blast, with the bases clear, did only a run's worth of damage, rather than even or flip the score in Jones County's favor with one or more still on base. And that wound up being all the difference. 
   Gorney got the third out a moment later on Jacob Thompson's infield popper to first, which Tyler Franks snagged for the third out. It wrapped up his second save of the young season, as West Laurens weathered a third-straight seventh-inning rally to hang on in the 2-1 win that keeps them unbeaten through as many games.  
   The Raiders' home opener was both a pitchers' duel and a glove show, with some superior defense on both sides that played a significant role in the result. 
   West Laurens stranded seven total Grayhounds with a combination of clutch strikeouts and great throws on sharp grounders to beat runners at first. Jones County, as a matter of fact, hustled out infield tappers for three of its six hits on the night. But the Raiders repeatedly found ways to cut the innings short, getting two key third outs on throws from the hot corner by third baseman Eli Floyd to end the third and fourth innings. 
   The error-free Grayhounds reciprocated with plenty of stellar plays of their own, completing 1-2-3 innings in the third, fourth and sixth with well-executed throws from the left side of the infield. Thompson also snagged a hot liner off the bat of Bradley Wilson to rob an extra base hit for the third out in the fifth. 
   When batters for either team weren't making contact, they were being carved up by pitchers for a combined 22 strikeouts.    
   The West Laurens effort on the bump was led by Tyler Franks, who bounced back from a five-walk outing in his regular-season debut Saturday to fan nine batters (including four in the first inning) over three frames of work. The senior lefty gave up just two hits and two walks before giving way to senior right-hander Gavin White, who delivered the scoreless game to the seventh with just one walk and four strikeouts. 
   Jones County's pitching duo of Thompson and Dawson Harris, though overshadowed by the dominance of the Raiders, also had an excellent day, combining for nine strikeouts, just one walk and only two runs on five hits. 
   Those West Laurens knocks came right off the bat in the first, when Colton Scott and Carson Estep led off with back-to-back singles. The first Raider run got in on a wild pitch, before Tyler Franks drove in another on an RBI single. 
   West Laurens could only put three more on base the rest of the evening, set down in order during four of the remaining five innings. A similar hit parade led by Scott and Estep in the third was cut off before any additional scoring, with the bases still juiced. 
   The Grayhounds, who out-hit West Laurens 6-5, got runners aboard in every inning but the first, but failed to bring any around to score prior to Baxter's home run. 
   The teams are set to rematch in Gray on April 16, when they make up a season-opening game that was rained out last Thursday. West Laurens returns to Alpharetta to play both Denmark and Lambert, with whom they split in a set of games last February, in a doubleheader on Saturday. First pitches in the respective games will be at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.