Bulldogs beat NR for first time on diamond

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

King’s Fork High baseball coach J.B. Varney was huffing and puffing Tuesday, shortly after his Bulldogs pulled off the biggest victory in the program’s five-year history.

The gray-haired bench boss had promised to run a lap of the field when his team notched its first victory of the season and although he was happy to deliver, the jaunt left him a bit short of air. Asked the logical question of whether a second victory would double his running load, Varney shook his head vigorously.

“I don’t have two laps in me,” he laughed.

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Perhaps, but King’s Fork has its first-ever defeat of city rival Nansemond River, an 8-7 triumph accomplished in nail-biting fashion that not only gave the Bulldogs (1-2) just their fourth victory, but dropped the shell-shocked Warriors to 0-5 overall and in Southeastern District play.

A team that features some of the district’s best players in Erickson Keeton, Ombri Rivers and Johnny Pitt now faces long odds on reaching the circuit’s four-team postseason tournament, which is held at Nansemond River.

The Warriors won’t be getting any sympathy from Varney, who used to coach the Nansemond River junior varsity but has suffered substantial growing pains with his new school the last five years as it has struggled to build a program from scratch.

The Bulldogs didn’t win a district game in their first three campaigns before beating Lakeland and Oscar Smith last spring, but they blew a late lead against Nansemond River and Varney thought his club had a good shot to get over the hump before Tuesday’s game.

“I just felt in my bones that we’d get them this year,” Varney said.

“But we’d been looking like crud the last two games and it was like I’d gone back in time five years.”

King’s Fork lost its season and district opener 22-6 to Indian River and got beat 10-0 Monday against Hickory in a game shortened to five innings by the mercy rule.

Tuesday’s pitcher was Mike Murray, who was making his first start of the season and who went the distance, allowing six hits and only one earned run. He struck out six Warriors and walked three while the Bulldogs committed three errors.

“It’s always nice to beat a rival,” Murray said. “Especially because I know most of (the Warriors) as friends.”

King’s Fork led 8-4 after four innings but Pitt narrowed the lead to one run with a single swing in the fifth. The hulking first baseman smacked a three-run home run to left field, the blast coming just moments after an infield error on a play that would have been the inning’s third out.

Murray set the Warriors down in order during the sixth, but the seventh was more tense. To begin with, there were grumblings among King’s Fork supporters concerned that Murray was being overextended while no reliever was warming up in the bullpen. A leadoff single increased the suspense, but Murray induced a ground ball double play before walking Jordan Long and sending him to second with an errant pickoff attempt.

Another walk to Rivers put men at first and second with two out and Pitt, the next batter, was intentionally walked to load the bases. The pivotal showdown between Murray and Blake Miller was won by the pitcher, who struck the sophomore out looking and leaped off the mound in celebration.

“I went the whole way when we beat Oscar Smith last year, so I knew I had it in me,” Murray said. “This team’s got a lot of fight and I wasn’t going to let the guys down.”

Said Nansemond River coach Mark Stuffel: “We’ve got a really young group but we’re better than that. If we can’t throw strikes and let our defense make plays we’re in trouble. We just keep finding ways to lose.”