By Maurice Patton
Kavares Tears and Luke Gill each struggled early Monday.
But while Columbia Academy’s Tears worked out of first-inning trouble against visiting Grace Christian, the Bulldogs took advantage of Gill’s three walks and a wild pitch along with a pair of Lion errors – plating three runs in their half of the first in an eventual 6-0 Division II-A District 3 victory.
“It felt like he was a little nervous,” CA coach Richie Estep said of Tears, who walked the bases full before getting back-to-back strikeouts to squelch the opening-inning threat. Tears finished with 12 strikeouts, allowing two hits and just the three walks over six shutout innings.
“We knew it’d be competitive. They’re a good team. I’ve been around Brad (Myers, Grace Christian coach) for years. They do it the right way. Once (Tears) settled in, that first inning was huge. Their pitcher was tough. He pounded the (strike) zone. We were fortunate to get on him in the first.”
Tears’ early issues didn’t carry over to the plate. After Tanner Ham reached on a Gill two-base throwing error and Landon Prentice drew a walk, his hard-hit grounder was mishandled to load the bases. Walks to Max Ballard and Bryant Beranek each forced in runs, and Tears scored from third on a wild pitch.
“We didn’t make plays,” Myers said. “Against a good team, you’ve got to make plays. Luke threw a good ballgame. If it’s 1-0, who knows what happens?
“We’ve got to put the ball in play. (Tears) made some big pitches in the first, did what he had to do. We didn’t capitalize. I thought Luke was really good when he worked ahead. He got behind in some counts, and we didn’t make some plays.”
In his next at-bat, Tears drove a Gill delivery the other way over the left-field fence to lead off the third – his second home run of the season — and extend the Bulldog advantage to 4-0.
Columbia Academy (5-0, 3-0) picked up two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, as Ham singled through a drawn-in infield to score Beranek and Tyler Stephens.
“That was all set up by the bunt from (pinch-hitter) Cade (Crouthamel),” said the senior shortstop. “With runners at second and third, you’ve just got to put the bat on the ball from there.
“That kinda solidified the game a little.”
Prentice took over mound duties in the top of the seventh, working around a leadoff double with a groundout and a pair of strikeouts to close out the contest.
“Tanner looked bad on two curveballs, then he got one he could handle,” Estep said. “He found a way to get the bat on the ball. Those runs were huge. There’s a huge difference in 4-0 and 6-0.”
Grace Christian fell to 2-4 overall with the loss in its district opener.
Grant Wooldridge added a base hit for Columbia Academy, which finished with three against Gill and reliever Silas Jones.
“We’re fighting for a home game to open the district tournament,” Estep said. “With them, Middle Tennessee Christian, (Christ Presbyterian Academy) and us, with Franklin Road Academy and (Battle Ground Academy), it’s going to be competitive. But you want to be able to play at home.
“His teams do things the right way. Any time you can beat them, it’s a good win.”
The two are scheduled to play again Tuesday at Clyde Pewitt Field in Leipers Fork. Game time is 6:30 p.m.
Columbia Acad. 6, Grace Chr. 0
G 000 000 0 – 0 3 2
C 301 002 x – 6 3 0
Luke Gill, Silas Jones (6) and Blake Barton; Kavares Tears, Landon Prentice (7) and Max Ballard. W: Tears; L: Gill; HR: C – Tears (2)
Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports