Late rally falls short, Princeton drops Lakewood

Lakewood catcher, Spencer Ray, applies the tag to a Princeton base runner during the top of the fourth on Tuesday. This was the first out in a 5 to 2, 2 to 4 double play as Ray would fire the ball to second to cut down the batter trying to take an extra base. To view more photos from this game, visit the sports section on (Mike Carter/Sampson Independent)

Lakewood first baseman, Chandler Honeycutt, tosses the ball to his pitcher at first base to record a late inning out for the Leopards. Honeycutt had made a fine play on the ball, knocking down a hot smash down the line and completing the well executed play to end a Princeton scoring threat. To view more photos from this game, visit the sports section on (Mike Carter/Sampson Independent)

Lakewood hosted the Princeton Bulldogs on Tuesday night for an important conference baseball game with playoff implications. Riding a hot streak, winning 6 of their last 8 games the Leopards, still alive in the state playoff chase, needed few reminders of what a win would mean. Princeton took an early lead and turned back each Leopard threat until the final inning when Lakewood staged an inspired rally, cutting the Bulldog lead and getting the winning run to the plate before falling short in a hard fought 5-3 loss.

Princeton broke open a scoreless game in the top of the second, plating four runs to go on top 4-0. The Bulldogs added a run in the top of the fourth to take a 5-0 lead but Lakewood catcher Spencer Ray’s heads up play helped thwart what could have been a huge inning for the Bulldogs. Princeton got two runners on base with no outs to open the fourth. With runners at first and third the Bulldog batter hit a slow roller to third base where Matt Butler fielded the ball and fired home to Ray, cutting down the runner at the plate. Ray alertly realized the the Princeton batter was trying to take second on the play and threw a strike to second base to complete the 5 to 2, 2 to 5 twin killing. Princeton would eventually get the runner in from third, but the heads up play of the Leopard backstop probably saved a couple of runs.

Lakewood would answer with a run in the bottom of the fourth when Matt Butler drove in Zach Tanner with an RBI Single to cut into the Princeton lead. Lakewood starting pitcher, freshman Josh Carter, was doing a good job on the mound, going five innings and pitching his way out of several jams before yielding to Zach Tanner to start the sixth inning. Tanner would finish the game for Lakewood.

The game entered the bottom of the seventh with the Bulldogs holding a commanding 5-1 lead but Lakewood refused to give up and made things interesting in their final turn at bat. Dylan Ivey got aboard on an error and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice. Josh Hall laced a single to left, driving in Ivey to cut the Princeton lead to 5-2. The next batter was hit by a pitch putting runners at first and second and bringing the tying run to the plate. Willie Herring hit the ball sharply into left, scoring Josh Hall from second to keep the Leopards hopes alive and put the game winner at the plate with two outs. This would be as close as Lakewood could come as the final batter lifted a fly ball into shallow left where the Princeton shortstop recorded the final out to end the Leopard rally and cap off a well played game.

After the game, Lakewood head coach, Raymond Spell was disappointed with the loss but praised his team’s play and never say die attitude, saying “we gave up some runs we shouldn’t have in the second inning but our guys never gave up. We hit the ball as well as they did and had our chances. Josh Carter, a freshman, pitched five strong innings for us tonight, you can’t ask for much more.” Lakewood will travel to Hobbton on Friday night to face the Wildcats in a game that may well determine their playoff chances. Spell commented on the importance of that game, saying, “I told the guys last week that we needed to win 3 of our last 4 ballgames. We have won 2 of 3 now so that game on Thursday is huge for us. If we win we probably make the playoffs. I am just proud of our team, the guys are playing great. We have won 6 of the last 8 and they refuse to give up, even when they are down.”

The loss drops Lakewood’s record to 7-10 overall and 7-6 in conference play and the Leopards stand fourth in the conference. Lakewood will travel to Hobbton on Thursday to close out the regular season.