CARTERVILLE — Their opponents came in hot, riding a 13-game winning streak and sole possession of first place.
But the Carterville Lions derailed the Nashville Hornets, 5-2, on Tuesday, creating a tie atop the SIRR Mississippi baseball standings.
“We’re about halfway through the conference and we stubbed our toe against Du Quoin last week,” said Carterville coach Bobby Jackson. “So we said we now have to do it hard way, and our kids responded.”
Carterville improved to 11-4 with its seventh win in its last eight games, while Nashville fell to 13-3.
The Lions banged out 13 hits, including four in the first when Carterville took the lead, and another four in the fifth when the Lions scored two insurance runs.
First baseman Jarrett Glenn led the Lions with three hits, and centerfielder Peter Baker drove in the winning run in the first and an insurance run in the fifth.
“I didn’t see the ball that well today, and that hit in the first inning was a slow roller that I only got the tip of the bat on,” Baker said.
Befitting a battle between the top two teams, the matchup on the mound pitted two undefeated pitchers, with Nicholas Laird toeing the rubber for the Lions and Bryce Bultman going for the Hornets.
Laird and Keaton Pestka didn’t allow more than one hit in any inning except for the seventh, and they pitched around the first two batters getting on in the fourth and fifth innings. At the plate, Laird had two hits and a RBI in the first and Pestka drove in a run in the fifth.
“Today they just kept hitting it where we weren’t,” said Nashville coach Chad Malawy. “I don’t how many ducksnorts and flares that were finding the right spot. One of our biggest philosophies is to get the lead out and control the inning, and we only got the lead out twice. That sums up the game.”
Nashville struck first, scoring two runs in the first inning on one hit as Laird had trouble finding the plate early. The junior right-hander got into one-out trouble by walking Cole Malawy and Gavin Baldwin on 3-2 pitches. Nick Paskiewicz gave Nashville the lead on a sacrifice fly to left field.
Bultman kept the inning going with a seeing-eye ground ball to center. Laird then issued his third walk to load the bases, and two pitches later, Malawy scored on a passed ball.
With runners at second and third, Laird shut the door by getting designated hitter Tanner Bergmann to hit a ground ball to third.
Bultman (4-1) took the mound and Bryce Anderson greeted the senior right-hander with a bouncer past third. Bultman then hit Chandler Roberts and walked Luke Anderson to load the bases with no outs.
Laird (4-0) then helped himself with a base hit to right to drive in Anderson, leaving the bases loaded. Glenn tied the game on a low line drive past the shortstop.
Two outs later, with the bases still loaded, Baker hit Bultman’s first pitch and beat the throw to first as Laird scored the go-ahead run.
After pitching around a two-out single in the second, Laird pitched out of a one-out, two-on jam in the third and around a leadoff walk followed by a hit batsman in the fourth.
“It was just willpower,” Laird said. “I couldn’t really throw my curveball — it wasn’t working for me — so I just trusted my fastball. I was just trying to go as many innings as I could. ”
Pestka took over in the fifth and allowed the first two runners to get on base. The senior right-hander shut the rally down on a fielder’s choice ground ball to short, a pop fly to the mound and a fly ball to left.
Pestka got out of a one-out base hit jam in the sixth on a dazzling 6-4-3 double play. In the seventh he gave up a leadoff base hit and a one-out single, but stranded the runners on a pop out to right and a ground ball to second to earn his second save.
“Today I was very good about locating my outside fastball keeping it low to get a lot of ground balls, which was what I was looking for,” Pestka said. Whether the bases were empty or there were runners, on I kept the same motion going.”
The Lions scored two insurance runs in the fifth inning when Glenn, Tyler Bittle, Pestka and Baker opened with four consecutive base hits to chase Bultman.