Sterlington 10, Jonesboro-Hodge 0
Ross Lambert threw a no-hitter and Trent Raffray drove in three runs with a pair of doubles as Sterlington took care of Jonesboro-Hodge 10-0 Monday afternoon.
Sterlington (21-6, 6-1) travels to Winnfield on Tuesday (4 p.m. JV, 6 p.m. varsity), needing a victory to set up a showdown with Oak Grove for the District 2-2A title. Thursday's game time is set for 6 p.m. at Panther Park.
Under baseball's unwritten rules, nobody on the bench is allowed to mention the fact that a pitcher is working toward a no-hitter — even when the teammate is well out of earshot. Although no one violated the sacred code, Lambert was keenly aware of what was at stake. When Sterlington plated four runs in the bottom of the fifth to put the 10-run rule into effect, the junior lefthander knew he had the no-no.
“I thought about (the no-hitter) a few times throughout the game,” Lambert admitted, “but I didn't let it affect my effort. I just wanted to win the game and throw strikes.
“Give credit to our outfield and defense — they did a great job.”
Lambert also gave his catcher, Auston Smith, a well-deserved shoutout.
With senior first baseman Tyler Buffington out of the lineup since spraining his right ankle at Jonesboro-Hodge last Thursday, Smith has been inserted into the lineup behind the plate, with senior Kyle Vandergracht moving from catcher to first base.
“I like pitching to Alex,” said Lambert, who won for the seventh time in nine decisions. “He interacts with me and makes sure I keep my head on straight.”
Lambert was one pitch away from a perfect game. Leading off the second, Dre McCardie was hit by a pitch.
“All I'm thinking about right now is one bad pitch,” Lambert said. “It was a curve ball that didn't curve and I hit (McCardie) on the elbow.”
Lambert then fell behind 3-0 on the next batter, but came back with three straight strikes for one of his six punchouts. McCardie then advanced to second on a groundout to second baseman Austin Mills, but could go no further.
After hitting McCardie, Lambert retired the Tigers' final 12 batters.
With two outs in the fifth, Sterlington third baseman Dalton Dopson bobbled a high chopper, but recovered in plenty of time to get the out at first base. As it turned out, the Tigers would not get another opportunity to break up the no-hit bid.
Sterlington scored two in the second, one in the third, three in the fourth and four in the fifth.
Playing small ball, the Panthers' first four hits were off bunts.
“With Buff out, we're having to bunt the ball more,” Lambert said. “We have to use our speed and put pressure on the defense.”
Sterlington opened the second with three straight bunts.
Corrent legged out a base hit to left side of the infield, went to second on a wild pitch and was sacrificed to third by Dopson.
Pushing the ball past the mound to the right side, Jacob Barr singled, swiped second and third and was motioned home on a balk for the Panthers' second run.
In the third, Austin Mills' leadoff bunt resulted in a throwing error. Mills pilfered second and third and crossed home on Vandergracht's RBI single.
Sterlington padded its lead to 6-0 with three in the fourth.
With one away, Barr bunted his way aboard for the second straight at bat. Raffray then drilled an RBI double down the left field line.
Next up, Smith was hit by a pitch. One out and a wild pitch later, Mills smacked a two-run single to center.
J-Hodge (3-19, 0-6) was unable to record an out in the fifth.
Zac Corrent and Dopson walked and Barr was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out.
Raffray followed with a two-run double to left and Smith smacked a two-run single to left, bringing the score to 10-0.
Raffray went 2-for-2 and scored twice and Barr went 2-for-2 with three stolen bases and three runs scored to pace the Panthers at the plate.
Brian Spencer, the first of three J-Hodge pitchers, took the loss.
BUFF'S INJURY: Sterlington trainer Daniel Byrd diagnosed Buffington's injury as a Grade 2 medial sprained ankle. Buffington will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging on Thursday. The University of Arkansas at Monticello football signee is not optimistic regarding his chances of returning to the lineup.
ELITE COMPANY: Lambert became only the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Sterlington coach Mark Sims' career. Aaron Loup, now a reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays, threw the other while Sims was at Hahnville.
“I know how hard it is to throw one of those suckers,” said Sims, who never threw a no-hitter during a distinguished career at Ouachita High School nor in nine seasons in the minor leagues.
Sims presented Lambert's father, Doug, with a copy of the lineup card, which was posted on the dugout wall, following the game.