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It would come as no surprise if word leaked that Anderson County's baseball team had gotten together, clicked its collective heels three times and said, “There's no place like home. There's no place like home.”
A 12-4 win over a Scott County team shooting for its 20th win Monday evening indicated there really is no place like home.
The Bearcats could not have known any differently this year. Heading into the final week of the high school baseball season, they had not played a game on the newly renovated home field. There had been countless long bus rides and then last week, when the field was supposedly ready, rain that would have made Noah turn his head forced the Bearcats to cancel three home games.
While the sun had finally been shining, it was not until Anderson coach L.W. Barnes and athletic director Rick Sallee walked the infield about noon on Monday that the game was a go.
“It is still real soft in sports, but we needed to play,” Barnes said.
The Bearcats had played 25 games away from their home field and had practiced on the infield only once before last week's rains. Even that was a session that assistant coach Chris Copenhaver said was “well, sort of a practice.”
“It's been a real drag,” said senior outfielder Granville Hayes, who bypassed Senior Awards Night to play the belated home opener. “We have had a lot of long bus rides. There was a lot of camaraderie on the long rides, but a lot of sleeping too. Everybody was worn out from all of the traveling.”
You could have fooled Scott County Monday night.
Anderson batted around to score four times, on just one hit, in the bottom of the first. Scott starter Josh Stratton could not find the plate. His first eight pitches were outside the strike zone and Stratton walked four in the first. In all, Cardinal pitching issued 10 free passes and hit a batter.
The Cardinal defense did not help, committing five errors.
Anderson repeatedly took advantage of five Scott errors, plating seven uneared runs.
Meanwhile Anderson starter Josh Brown, who had not pitched well in the previous start at Harrison County, was in control from the outset. The sophomore only struck out five, but scattered seven hits and walked only three in a route-going performance.
“He had command of all of his pitches tonight,” Barnes said. “Our pitcher threw strikes and when they didn't throw strikes, we made them pay.”
The Bearcats made Scott pay for every kind of miscue. Their first run came when Dusty Puckett scored on a passed ball, then Shea Sparrow and Lucas Durr scored on an error.
After Scott got two back in the second, Durr put a Stratton fastball well over the left field fence to make it 6-2. The Bearcats put things away in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate and scoring five runs. Brandon Eliadis, pinch-hitting for Tanner Roberts, put the exclamation point on the win with a line drive that just cleared the fence in right center for a 3-run blast that made it 12-3.
A team that had struggled to score all year, the Bearcats put up their biggest run total of the season in their home opener.
“Hopefully this will carry over the rest of the week and into the district (tournament, to be played next week),” Barnes said. “It was like we have been playing out here all year.”
The smiles crossing the Bearcats' faces belied the fact that the program that has been near the top of the Eighth Region since 2000 was still only 8-18 after Monday's win.
For a while, it looked as if the Bearcats would go the whole season without having a home game. “That would have been kind of upsetting,” admitted Hayes.
Adversity works in strange ways at times. Hayes acknowledged as much after Monday's performance. “We have come together as a team,” he said.
Then a big smile.
“We are undefeated at home.”
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