IAC / NTL BASEBALL: 8TH-GRADER PITCHES TIOGA TO 5-4 WIN OVER ATHENS (24 PHOTOS) (2021-05-01)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Eighth-grader Conlan Taylor pitched a complete game in his first varsity start, leading Tioga to a 5-4 win over Athens here Saturday afternoon in the nightcap of the “Battle at the Border” baseball showcase.

Taylor allowed four runs — three earned — on six hits, while striking out three and walking just one. He threw 86 pitches.

“He was outstanding,” said Tioga coach Kevin Evanek. “We knew he was that good. He works hard at it … he’s here every morning hitting off a tee. He does a lot of work in the offseason … he puts the time in, and it shows.

“And, he swings the bat as well as anyone. He’s going to be a great player, we’re fortunate to have him.”

“I’m looking forward to coaching him for five years,” added Evanek.

Athens coach Charlie Havens was impressed as well.

“He kept the ball on our hands, he kept us off balance, and he worked quick.

“He had a really good approach to the game,” added Havens. “He’s going to be fun to watch the next few years.”

After Taylor worked around a two-out single by Athens sophomore Cam Sullivan in the top of the first inning, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the home half of the first.

With one out, junior Cobe Whitmore walked, stole second and moved to third base on a single by Taylor. Whitmore scored on an errant pickoff throw to first.

Senior Derrick Gage followed with a singled to put runners on first and third, but the Wildcats turned a 4-6-3 (Sullivan to junior Karter Rude to sophomore Mason Lister) to avoid further damage.

Taylor worked around an error in the top of the second, then the Tigers extended the lead in the bottom of the frame.

With two outs, senior Cole Williams singled up middle. After Williams moved to second on a wild pitch, and third base on a passed ball, junior Gavin Godfrey worked a seven-pitch walk.

Bailey then ripped a two-run double down the right-field line to make it 3-0.

Athens got on the board in the top of the third inning on a two-out RBI single by Sullivan.

The Wildcats tied the game in the top of the fifth inning on another two-out hit.

Dylan Merritt led off the stanza with a single, but was immediately replaced on the base paths by Kyler Setzer via a fielder’s choice groundout. Rude then belted a double to right field to put runners on second and third.

With two outs, Sullivan lined a two-RBI single to left field to make it 3-3.

Tioga answered quickly, however, with two runs in the home half of the inning.

Bailey reached on an infield single that was lost in the sun by an Athens infielder, and scored when Whitmore belted the first pitch he saw to deep left field for an RBI double.

With two outs, freshman Ethan Perry ripped an RBI double to center field to make it 5-3.

With two outs in the top of the sixth, Kaden Setzer and Merritt reached on back-to-back errors that put runners on first and third. Kyler Setzer then ripped a single up the middle that ricocheted off Taylor, allowing Kaden Setzer to score, and leaving runners on first and third.

After Kyler Setzer stole second, Rude hit a grounder up the middle that Perry, at shortstop, fielded and fired to first base. Williams picked a low throw out of the dirt for the out on a bang-bang play.

“We thought we should have had a tie ball game, but we didn’t get the ball,” said Havens.

Taylor retired the Wildcats in order in the seventh to preserve the win.

Despite the loss, Havens is pleased with the way his team is playing.

“There’s nothing to be upset about with the way we played. It was a one-run ball game.

“We had some good hitting, and our defense is really coming around,” said Havens. “I’m pretty happy with how we’re playing right now. We had a 4-1 week.”

Evanek was pleased with with the win, but knows his team needs to improve.

“The bottom of our line-up struggled, but our top five hitters looked good.

“We were swinging late, and it really goes back to not seeing a fastball for two years,” said Evanek. “Our timing got better as the day went on, and I think it will continue to get better.”

Bailey doubled and singled, scored one run, and drove in two runs, and Taylor singled twice to lead Tioga’s nine-hit attack, while Whitmore doubled, scored two runs, and knocked in one run, and Perry doubled and drove in one run.

Williams singled and scored a run in the win, while Josh Reis and Gage each added a single, and Godfrey scored one run.

Sullivan stroked three singled and drove in three runs to lead Athens’ six-hit attack, while Rude doubled and scored two runs, Kyler Setzer singled, scored one run, and drove in one run, and Merritt added a single. Kaden Setzer scored a run.

Sullivan was tagged with the loss, allowing two runs on four hits, while striking out three and walking one. Sullivan pitched two perfect innings of relief in the first game of the “Battle of the Border” earlier Saturday.

“Sullivan is eating a lot of innings for us, and saving our big arms for the games we need them in,” said Havens. “He’s really done a good job.”

Athens, now 8-7, hosts Wellsboro Wednesday, while Tioga, 1-1, travels to Newark Valley Monday.

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IN PHOTO 1: Tioga’s Conlan Taylor. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.