Coach Mike Santoro's Raiders, coming off their Opening Day victory over North Atlanta, caught a Fulton County School Bus to face the Westminster Wildcats at their lovely park, hard by the governor's mansion and the handsome estates along West Paces Ferry Road on Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Westminster, the defending state AAA baseball champions, boast a lineup of aggressive young hitters.
After the top of the order went down 1-2-3 in the first inning against the Wildcat's starter, Brian Chu, Senior starter Mikey O'Connell took the mound to face Westminster's bats. The confident Wildcat hitters are accustomed to making pitchers pay for mistakes and this night was no exception. O'Connell threw a handfull of off-speed pitches which hung too long in the strike zone, and Westminster took advantage, plating three runs on two singles and two doubles.
In the top of the second, the resilient Raiders promptly answered with three runs. Patrick Hope walked, John Beckley singled, and Joseph Tobia reached on an error, loading the bases for Senior Catcher Erick Castro. Castro sent a thrilling bases-clearing double inside the bag at third to tie the game.
In the bottom of the frame, O'Connell, allowed only a single baserunner and held the score at 3-3.
In the top of the third, the Senior left fielder Brandon Moore was hit by a pitch and scored on Senior Right Fielder John Beckley's 310 foot sacrifice fly to left. Joseph Tobia added to the lead with an RBI single to score Patrick Hope.
In the bottom of the third, O'Connell gave up two runs after putting the first two batters aboard. However, Mikey O'Connell is a three-year letterman; nothing fazes him, even if he is not pitching with his best stuff. And so, O'Connell rallied and induced three straight outs from the eager Wildcats. At the end of three, the score stood tied 5-5.
In the top of the fourth, the Raiders retook the lead when Dawson Vainer reached on a walk, advanced on a balk, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Sophomore DH, Allen Grier. This lead would prove decisive as Junior Griffin Brown came on in relief of O'Connell in the bottom of the inning.
Brown had a bit of a wild ride in the fourth inning. Despite a hit batsman and a couple of errant pitches mixed in, he shut down the Wildcat's scoring with two strikeouts (both looking) and a wicked breaking ball. After four innings, the score stood Riverwood 6, Westminster 5.
Despite singles by Castro and Vainer in the sixth, the Raiders could not push across any more runs in the fifth and sixth. Brown continued to befuddle the Westminster lineup with an unpredictable mixture of fastballs, elegant curveballs, and the occasional scatter-shot to the backstop.
In the final inning, the Raider offense carded two more runs. Pinch runner Connor Sewell scored on Joseph Tobia's single and John Beckley, who reached on a hard single between short and third, scored on Eric Castro's selfless grounder to second.
With the score standing at 8-5 in the final frame, Griffin Brown faced the minimum ending the game with a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play, Vainer to Engelhard to Hope.
The Raiders travel to Lakeside-DeKalb Saturday, February 18 for a noon game (view schedule). The next home game is at Raider Park Monday, February 21 vs. Lovett.