RALEIGH — With a man on first base, Heritage senior Cullen Cicotte knocked a ground ball up the middle of the infield Thursday, just past and to the right of second base, but that’s where Leesville Road second baseman Ryan Sande dove to make the stop.
Sande flipped the ball to Pride shortstop Dillon Cooper, who touched second, turned and fired a throw to first for the double play to close the top of the sixth inning.
First baseman Jakob Arnold hollered in excitement at the play. The crowd erupted as Leesville, fired up and still with a one-run lead, went on to bring home its first three batters in the bottom of the sixth to give the Pride some cushion in a 4-0 win over Heritage.
“We try to hang our hat on pitching and good defense and that’s what we had tonight,” Leesville Road coach Guy Civitello said. “(Pitcher) Andrew (Papp) did a great job, and we talk about making the routine plays and every once in a while making a special one. That was a great example of that tonight when we played pretty well behind him defensively and then Ryan at second base made that special play there and that really gave us a lot of energy going into that last inning.”
The win gave the Pride (12-3, 6-2 Cap Eight) space in what had been a neck-and-neck race for second place in the conference with Heritage, and with both teams chasing Millbrook, which is undefeated in the first half of conference play.
“It’s only the start of the second half of the season, and in our conference, anybody can beat anybody,” Civitello said “And we know we’ve got a long way to go, but that’s a good start to the second half.”
Papp, who pitched a complete game, struck out six Heritage batters in the win, including the third out after a one out, bases-loaded situation in the fourth to leave the Huskies scoreless.
“Both games were very tight games throughout,” Heritage coach Tony Piercy said. “At our place we strung together some hits and they strung together some hits here late and they made a SportsCenter play behind second base and took us out of a potential rally. (Papp) pitched out of a bases loaded jam early. We had our chances, we just couldn’t come up with that hit when we needed it.”
The result was a third consecutive loss for Heritage (12-6, 4-4), which won the first meeting between the teams, 7-2.
“We won a lot of close games early in the year and we got a pretty good conference record, beat some quality teams early in the conference and I think when we went from being the hunter to the hunted,” Piercy said. We have to execute a little better to handle that bulls-eye and we haven’t executed as well as we can. Once we clean that up, we’ll start coming out on top of a couple of these.”