Shelton wins #400 as Ponies split with BPCC
Todd Shelton’s celebration of his 400th win as a head coach was delayed when the BPCC Cavaliers won the first game of a double header Sunday, 6-2. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed due to inclement weather.
Ponies’ starter Gavin Williamson of Carthage had been roughed up in his previous three outings, but, in Sunday’s game, he pitched effectively for five innings, despite continuing control problems since suffering a nagging cut on the middle finger of his throwing hand a month ago. Sunday afternoon, he hit four batters and walked two, but held the Cavs to the two runs they plated in the third inning. His performance has to be heartening for Panola loyalists; as the Ponies make the stretch run toward the conference tournament in May, Williamson’s big right arm will be crucial to their success.
The usually reliable Robbie Petty relieved in the top of the 6th with the score tied 2-2. In the 7th, Petty experienced control problems, walking lead-off hitter Matt Martin and surrendering a single and another walk before the Cav’s Preston Gray slugged a bases-loaded homer that gave the Cavs a 6-2 lead. Gray’s home run was the third grand slam off Ponies’ pitching in three games.
The Cavs 6-2 lead held up in the 7th, as the Ponies went quietly, giving the Cavs only their fourth conference win of the year. Hunter Hagler, who has been on a tear lately, led Ponies’ hitters with two singles and two runs scored.
Huntington righty Hunter Palmer started the second game for the Ponies. After a shaky first inning in which Matt Martin cracked a wind assisted two-run homer, Palmer did what he does; he commanded the zone his fastball and baffled Cavs’ hitters with his off-speed pitches, including a tantalizing curveball that drops like a shot bird as opposing hitters helplessly swat the air. After the first inning, no Cavs’ runners reached second base until the 7th, when the Cavs scored their third run on a single and a double. Palmer earned the win, which gives him a 3-1 record on the year. Freshman Adam Atkins, who continues to impress, relieved Palmer in the eighth and claimed his second save.
Down 2-0 in the third, the Ponies struck back. Shortstop Trevin Sonnier singled and scored when Derrian James’s single was mishandled by the Cavs’ centerfielder. In the bottom of the fifth, the Ponies’ offense, sputtering of late, caught fire. Matt Spruill single and took third on Hagler’s double. Carthage’s Clint Cage, whose bases loaded walk forced in the Ponies’ first run in the 3rd, plated both runners with a single that gave the Ponies their first lead, 3-2. Four singles and three runs later, the Ponies’ led, 7-3. On the day, the Ponies posted 15 hits, including a Hagler solo homer in the sixth. In the seventh, Spring Hill’s Greg Martens singled, stole second and third, and scored the Ponies’ last run on a wild pitch.
The Ponies’ 9-3 victory marked Coach Todd Shelton’s 400th career win, a rare milestone in an intensely competitive profession.
This is an appropriate time to comment on some of the coaching moves Shelton has made this year. Beginning with his pitching staff, which took a big hit early when ace Bubba Maxwell’s injury ended his season, Shelton was forced to alter plans with his starting rotation. He has settled on Palmer, Williamson, Kolbe Schufft and Preston Guillory; all four have pitched effectively in conference play.
Perhaps Shelton’s biggest challenge was his infield, which has played much more effectively since the coach’s mid-season shuffle that moved Hagler from third to first, Giovanni Lugo from first to second, and Spruill from second to third. Sonnier, who made several sparkling plays in the field yesterday, remained at short. Hagler has made a seamless transition to first. He has also hit much better since the change, posting the all-conference numbers we saw in his freshman year.
Shelton has relied on Robbie Petty as the fireman out of the bullpen. Despite being roughed up Sunday, Petty’s ERA remains under 2.00. Shelton found a diamond in the rough when he converted Atkins from catcher (as he is still listed on the roster) to reliever. Atkins and Hallsville freshman Jesse Hanson are both posting almost a K per inning pitched. Hanson, the designated closer going into the season, started slowly and even appeared to have lost some velocity in February. In early March, the Ponies were swept by Navarro but Hanson pitched well and, since then, has routinely dominated opposing pitchers.
On the season, the Ponies are 17-11. They have posted an 11-5 record in conference play. This week the Ponies play doubleheaders with the 12-2 Navarro Bulldogs, who lead the conference, then travel to Paris to take on the 9-5 Dragons, who are breathing fire at the Ponies’ from third place.
Wednesday, March 27, the Bulldogs will arrive at Jim Reeves Memorial Field for a doubleheader scheduled to begin at 3pm. Be there to cheer for Shelton wins 401 and 402!