By Maurice Patton
Even as one of them didn’t get the desired result, Mark Pickle and Hannah Cole agreed that weather wasn’t going to prevent Columbia Central’s baseball and softball seasons from starting Monday.
“We were going to do whatever it took to get this game in, after last year,” Pickle said after the Lions dropped a 6-0 decision – in no-hit fashion – to visiting District 8-AAA rival Coffee County. “These kids deserved it.”
Both the veteran coach Pickle and Cole, making her coaching debut after previously serving as an assistant, were mindful of spring sports being shut down a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic after the majority of teams across the state managed just a handful of contests at most.
“We worked really hard to make sure we played,” said Cole, whose Lady Lions highlighted their effort against visiting Independence with a six-run fifth inning en route to a 10-2 victory. “Thankfully, the rain moved out, the sun came out, the wind blew and here we are.”
Monday’s forecast for the last few days had called for rain throughout, creating concern across the Midstate, but the precipitation had subsided by mid-afternoon, clearing the deck for both contests.
Against a league foe, Central started four freshmen – ordinarily a dangerous mix, but perhaps less so under the circumstances, according to Pickle.
“We had some freshmen that hadn’t played, but we had a couple of sophomores that had never played, a couple of juniors that had never played, a couple of seniors … With COVID, everybody’s young.
“It’s not necessarily a concern that we’re young, playing a lot of young kids. Everybody’s in the same boat.”
Still, though, the Red Raiders’ pitching combination of Jacob Holder and Braden Brown held down Columbia Central’s offense, and the visitors got all the runs they’d need when they scored three – all with two outs – off freshman starter Luke Uselton in the top of the second inning.
“Early season is tough to say the least,” Pickle said. “We haven’t had scrimmages, those at-bats (to get ready). This would be one of those times to get no-hit. And their guy threw it pretty well. We took some good swings. We just came up empty.
“Hopefully, with 100 ABs, we’re catching up to 85 (mile-an-hour velocity) and hitting that.”
Holder struck out nine over six innings, with Brown striking out the side to close out the victory.
Offense was no issue for the Lady Lions, who scored in four different innings to support Kiraonte Buchanan’s effort in the circle.
“Hitting is something we’ve worked really hard on, and we’ve gotten to work on it a lot,” Cole said. “We missed the first week (of outdoor practice) when we got snow, and it was still wet out the second week. But we’ve got some strong hitters. I feel we should continue to be strong throughout the season.”
The attack starts with freshman centerfielder Saviya Morgan, who reached base in all four of her plate appearances – going 1-for-2 with a single, an error and two walks – and scored three runs. Samaira Davis also scored a pair of runs and drove one in, while Buchanan struck out four in the complete-game decision.
“I’m really proud of her,” Cole said of Buchanan, who will continue to handle the bulk of the Central pitching duties with Summer Hooten still hampered by a preseason knee injury.
“Summer should be back by next week, but we told ‘Wiggy’ – it’s you. I’m very proud, very impressed with how she performed.”
Both the Columbia Central baseball and softball teams will continue play Tuesday at Coffee County. The Lions are scheduled for a 4 p.m. start, with the Lady Lions set to begin at 5:15.
Courtesy photos by Buffy Holt