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Silver Creek's Andrew Gardner, left, just barely beats the ball to Crawford County's Jacob Bullington during a pick-off attempt in the third inning. Crawford won by a 5-4 decision. (Photos by Wade Bell)

Wolfpack slay Dragons in season-opener

April 09, 2008
The Crawford County Wolfpack opened up their spring baseball season with a nail-biter against visiting Silver Creek last Wednesday afternoon. When it was all over, the Wolfpack got their first win for 2008 with a 5-4 torching of the Dragons.

"You always want to start 1-0 and you want to win every home game," Crawford coach Greg Gogel said. "These guys needed this as far a as a confident boost, not only from last year but that all their work is paying off. That's a big thing because they put in some hours and they've done things a lot differently."

Neither team put any numbers on the slate in the first inning and a half, then Crawford hit the board to go in the lead. Jansen Sparks walked and then went to second on a passed ball. Casey Benham singled to put two runners on, then Jacob Bullington hit a long sacrifice fly to send Sparks in for a 1-0 lead.

Crawford County's Chris Newton makes this pick-off look easy as he tags Silver Creek's Ryan Smith for the out in the fourth inning.
Silver Creek, however, responded with a bigger inning in their next frame. Following a Andrew Gardner lead-off double and walk to Kyle Briner, Derrick Brown singled to load the bases. With two outs, Matt Meece walked to force in a run. Nolan Tyler then singled to score Brown and Ryan Smith, as Silver Creek took a 3-1 lead.

Crawford didn't panic and came back to tie in the bottom of the third. With one out, Zach Sturgeon, Bo Benham and Jesse Allen loaded the bases. Jonathon Bowles hit into a fielder's choice, and Silver Creek's only error of the game allowed Sturgeon and Benham to score to tie the game.

The next two innings saw both teams come up dry, then the Dragons went on top again in the sixth inning. Pitcher Casey Benham hit two Dragon batters and a walk to Nolan Taylor allowed Silver Creek to load the bases again. Gardner grounded to second, allowing Meece to score to give the Dragons a 4-3 lead.

Grogel held a meeting in front of the dugout to make sure his team didn't panic going into its sixth at bat.

"I tried to express to them this whole spring break and while we've been practicing (that) games are won in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings all the time," Gogel said. "You've got to answer the call when that comes around. If the other team scores eight runs in the first and eight in the second, you've got plenty of game left to come back and play the game hard."

Bullington started the sixth with a lead-off single. Ryan Bean moved Bullington to second on a sacrifice bunt, then Chris Newton walked. Bullington and Newton advanced on a passed ball, then Sturgeon used a sacrifice fly to score Bullington to tie the game at four.

Bo Benham followed with a double to score Newton for what would be the game-winning run. Silver Creek got one more chance at the plate, but the Dragons failed to extend the game, leaving a runner on with Crawford getting the 5-4 win.

Gogel said there wasn't a lot of concern when the Dragons put that runner on in the top of the seventh.

"With one out, I had confidence in our guys," Gogel said. "They've been put through the ringer. They've been in pressure-packed situations. We've tried to put them in that in practice so that whenever they get in the game, it's not such a big deal."

Crawford finished with seven hits, with Bo Benham getting two. Sparks put himself on base three times with two walks and a single. Hurley Casey Benham recorded eight strikeouts and three walks and hit two batters. Allen, who came on in relief, struck out two in the top of the seventh. The Wolfpack left nine runners on base and had no errors.

Silver Creek finished with five hits and made one error. Taylor struck out seven, walked four and hit two Crawford batters. Silver Creek left four runners standing.

Gogel said one thing keeping Crawford in the game was Casey Benham maintaining his composure on the mound when the bases were loaded.

"I think Casey has been in some tight spots before," the Crawford coach said. "He's been pitching for a long time and he has a lot of experience, but it helps having your brother (Bo Benham) behind the plate, as well. I think that really helps him out. He got into some tight spots and he gave a little smile and looked really relaxed."

Gogel said he wasn't worried when he put Allen on the mound in the seventh.

"Jesse's been throwing the ball well," he said. "All these guys have. We're pitching by committee."

Gogel said it's a good start for his team, but it's also a long season.

"I told them these games against Silver Creek and against some of these other teams are going to get us ready for the tough road we've got ahead," he said. "I hope that being battle tested now through this first game will catch and keep going."

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