ZEBULON — Clayton couldn’t have taken to the bigger than normal stage any better than it did Thursday night at Five County Stadium, and even the Comets’ coach admitted it.
East Wake, meanwhile, couldn’t have found many more things that almost went right. The Warriors’ issue was that all of those things – line drives caught, balls finding holes off of the Comet bats’, almost getting out of innings — turned in Clayton’s favor in a 12-0 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference baseball victory.
The Comets (7-1, 4-0), who won their seventh straight, scored all 12 runs with two outs and got another stellar outing from right-hander Cole Hinnant who worked the two-hit, six-inning shutout. Clayton has outscored its opponents 70-14 during the winning streak and hasn’t given up more than four runs in a game this season.
“We played very well,” said Clayton coach Stacey Houser. “We pitched well. We fielded well; we ran the bases well and hit the ball with runners on base. This was our most complete game of the season, a great team effort.”
The Comets scored 12 runs on 12 hits, taking advantage of five Warrior errors.
That trend of small mistakes by East Wake turning into a big inning for Clayton started in the first inning when Blake Joyner doubled in two runs after a two-out infield error.
In the third, Brooks Verona doubled to score a run with two outs.
Meanwhile, East Wake’s scoring chances seemed to always in up the glove of a Comet.
In the second, Brett Clark started a double play with second baseman Brandon Peake making a great turn to Verona at first to get out of the inning.
Catcher Marshall Creech, who threw out a runner to end the Warrior first inning, made a long run to track down a foul pop up for an out just outside of the first base dugout. Left fielder Austin Smith made a long run to make a diving grab of a foul ball in between the bullpen pitchers mound and catching area down the right field line.
Blake Joyner made a diving catch to rob the Warriors’ Cody Alphin of an extra base hit in the fifth.
“We made two great plays in the outfield, if not more, turned a 5-4-3 double play,” Houser said. “East Wake, they hit the baseball hard, but they hit it right at people. It just goes that way some nights. We made a lot of defensive plays tonight.”
East Wake (6-4, 3-2) had one of those great defensive plays in the fourth when Alphin threw out a Comet runner trying to score from second base on a Hinnant single to center field with Austin Dickens making the tag at home.
Smith doubled with two outs in the Clayton fifth and Sulley Keele followed with an infield single. Jesse Stevens walked to load the bases before Creech was hit by a pitch to force in a run.
Keele scored on a wild pitch and two more runs came home to run the lead to 7-0 when Hinnant doubled into the right field corner. He was 3-for-5 on the night. Verona and Joyner had two-hit nights.
“The kids did a good job of competing in the batter’s box,” Houser said. “We didn’t try to swing too hard a lot, we just stayed in there and battled, found ways to extend innings.”
Jesse Stevens singled in a run in the sixth and two Warrior errors brought in three more runs to push the lead to double-digits and end things early when Hinnant got out of the sixth without any damage after Kyle Boyette singled with two outs.
Paschal Ammons had the other Warrior hit on the night.
Hinnant only struck out two but faced just 19 batters over six innings thanks to two runners thrown out at second by Creech and the double play.
“Cole threw a lot of strikes,” Houser said. “There were times where I felt like he left the ball up too much and when he did, they hit it. We just made the plays. Every pitch was around the plate, which is what we want from our pitchers.”
“This was just a great night all-around for us. I’m glad these kids got to experience playing in a big minor league park like this.”
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest