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By Ben Brooks - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Senior Garrett Cunningham broke a tie with his two-run single in the top of the seventh and then came on in relief to record the last two outs in the bottom half of the inning to help lift James Wood High School to a 4-2 Northwestern District baseball victory over Handley Thursday afternoon at Bridgeforth Field.
The Colonels (4-7 overall and 2-2 in the district) began the seventh by getting their leadoff runner on for the first time since the first inning. After Russell Repasky got hit by a Cody Unger pitch, Wood's A.J. Eubank laid down a perfectly placed bunt single. Two batters later, with runners on second and third, the Judges intentionally walked Wood leadoff hitter Matt Copley. The Judges looked like they might dodge a bullet when Frank Minor's squeeze bunt missed, hitting the third-base bag and Unger later struck out Wood's designated hitter for the second out of the inning.
That's when Cunningham, one of nine seniors on James Wood's team, came to the plate and chopped a curveball up the middle and through the infield to drive in the go-ahead runs.
"I just threw my arms at it and somehow got it through," said Cunningham, who also drove in a run in the third to put the Colonels on top 2-1. "There was definitely a lot of pressure. We've been struggling a little offensively. We've been getting some hits, just not scoring many runs. But I think we'll be all right. The district is still anybody's to win."
"You've got to give Garrett a lot of credit," Colonels coach Jared Mounts said. "He's been in a little bit of a slump. You look for that senior leadership. It was a pressure situation, and he came through big for us."
Copley, Wood's ace, was effective though not dominant. He struck out six, but allowed nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. Handley (1-9, 0-1) stranded 10 runners for the game.
"That's why you have to take advantage of your opportunities," Handley coach Eddie Simmons said. "Somewhere along the line a soft-hit ball has a chance to find a hole."
The Judges struck quickly when Ryan Hayes plated Aubrey Wilkerson with a two-out RBI single up the middle. The Colonels answered with a pair of runs in the third. An outfield error on a Copley single brought home the tying run, and Cunningham followed with his two-out single into right-center.
Wood's lead didn't last long. The Judges again put pressure on Copley in the bottom of the third. With two runners on, Nolan Potts singled home Unger to tie the game at 2-2. The Colonels escaped further damage when Copley made a diving catch on Skylar Wotring's soft liner.
The Judges knocked Copley (3-2) out of the game when Unger walked and Hayes singled with one out in the seventh. However, Cunningham got Jake Rudolph to fly out and then struck out Potts to end it. The relief appearance was only Cunningham's second.
"Coach told me between innings that if they got some runners on base that they'd go to me," Cunningham said. "Everyone has a lot of confidence in Matt. He pitched a really great game. I just tried to go in and stay focused."
Wood had nine hits for the game, two each from Copley and Cunningham. Wilkerson and Hayes were both 2-for-4 for Handley.
Though the wins have been hard to come by this season, Simmons remained positive.
"Our guys are frustrated because of their record," he said. "I think they're just too young to step back and realize that they're doing a lot of good things. We had four freshmen and a couple of sophomores out there tonight. They competed against one of the better pitchers we'll see. Any time he's on the mound, you need to do some things to get a win. A couple of hits here and there and it might have been a different story."