It was overcast and cold with temperatures in the mid 40s. Add some agonizing gusting winds and you had a perfect day for prep baseball season to begin.
That was the case at Red Bank Monday night in a key season-opener with District 6-AA foe Central. It was a dedicated group of fans who attended the game and most were wrapped up in blankets and whatever else they could find to stay warm.
The visiting Purple Pounders seemed to handle the inclement weather better than the hosts as they won the game by a 6-1 final behind senior Andrew Bingham, who opened his final season with a dozen strikeouts.
Central jumped on the Lions early and scored three times in the first inning. Bingham was in control the entire game and only in the final inning did he allow his first earned run or his first walk.
“We didn’t hit the ball like we’re capable, but we executed when we needed to,” said the 18-year-old senior southpaw after he had made the final putout of the game when a Red Bank runner tried to score from third on a wild pitch.
“I felt pretty good for it to be the first game of the season, but the key was hitting my spots,” he added.
Central coach Glen Carter knows that Bingham is capable of doing big things on the mound. Give him an early lead and the challenge for the other team just becomes that much more difficult.
“When we score early runs, that takes the pressure off the pitcher, but Andrew was on and pitched really well today,” the veteran coach suggested.
“It’s cold, March baseball, so who knows what will happen on the first day of the season. We just had to be ready to make the plays and I told our defense to be ready when the ball was hit to them. We aren’t going to have a lot of big innings, so it’s small ball for small guys.
“I thought we did a good job of taking what was offered and it helped to get that early lead,” he added.
The Purple Pounders didn’t waste any time getting the lead as they promptly loaded the bases and those first three guys all scored.
Andrew Merriweather led off with an infield hit before Sebastian Gayton reached on the first of six Red Bank errors. Bingham then loaded the sacks when he reached on a bunt single before Jonathan Alston drove in the first two runs with a single to left.
Austin Ford then drove in the third run with a sacrifice bunt and the guys from Harrison were on their way.
Bingham singled again in the third and scored Central’s fourth run on another Red Bank mistake while the guys in purple added their final two runs in the sixth.
The Lions struggled to get anything going as centerfielder Madox Wilkey reached three times with a single in the first, a double in the fourth before getting hit by a pitch to lead off the seventh. He was finally able to score when catcher Eli Massengale reached on an infield single with the bases loaded as the hosts were able to avoid the shutout.
But even in that final inning when Austin Culpepper followed Wilkey with a single and Murphy Emery walked to load the bases, Bingham was more than able to make big pitches when they counted most.
He struck out Taylor Culpepper and Jacob Landers for the first two outs and was on the receiving end of catcher Kyle Murphy’s perfect relay to nail Austin Culpepper for the final out after he attempted to score on the wild pitch.
Red Bank coach Jason Henderson was a man of few words following his team’s first game.
“We just didn’t execute and that’s about all there was to it,” he said after dragging the infield with the Red Bank gator.
“Physical mistakes hurt, but tomorrow’s another day. We aren’t going to worry about this game as we’ll just focus on the next one,” he said.
While Bingham was the winning pitcher, fellow senior southpaw Izak Sullivan certainly deserved a better fate after suffering his first loss.
Sullivan allowed six hits and struck out nine in five innings. He was replaced by Chaz Eich after the first three hitters in the sixth reached.
Bingham and Wilkey were the only two players to get two hits.
CENTRAL 301 002 0 – 6 6 1
RED BANK 000 000 1 – 1 4 6
Bingham and Murphy; Sullivan, Eich (6) and Massengale.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)