Though the weather remained unseasonably cold on Tuesday, the surprising Airport Eagles remain a very hot baseball team.
Tim Perry’s youthful club needed just 76 minutes to dispatch archrival Brookland-Cayce 2-0 at home to improve to 13-0 overall, 5-0 in Region 5-3A. Perry has nine freshmen and sophomores on his 15-man varsity roster with only four seniors. But the Eagles are playing and winning close games like a veteran team that is adept at handling pressure situations. In fact, nine of Airport’s victories to date have been by two runs or less, six by one-run margins.
“The biggest thing we’re doing is pitching well and playing excellent defense,” said Perry. “We’re not scoring a lot of runs, but we’re getting timely hitting. We spend a lot of time in batting practice working on situational hitting and it’s paying off for us. We’ve had luck manufacturing runs without a lot of hits. That’s the biggest difference between this team and last year.”
A year ago, the Eagles did not adjust to the new reality in high school baseball with the introduction of the BBCOR bats. Airport kept swinging away as if the old, more lively metal bats were still is use. It was one factor in the team finishing with a 4-17-1 record in Perry’s first season at the helm.
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It’s a different story this year. Tuesday’s win that ended a perfect run though the first half of the region campaign had all of the team strengths on display.
Junior right-hander Austin Hawley pitched a four-hit shutout and was backed by solid defense. B-C had its leadoff hitter reach base safely and get into scoring position in the first, second, third and seventh innings reach base, but could not find a way to score.
The Eagles had three key defensive plays to back Hawley’s big pitches under pressure. The first was a double play started by freshman left fielder Zach Feaster that closed out the fourth inning. Feaster hauled in a routine fly ball and threw out B-C’s Daniel Branham at third. Branham unwisely tried to tag up and attempt to move up a base on the play. In the sixth, sophomore catcher Caleb Morris ended the inning by gunning down speedy B.J. DeWalt at second base on a steal attempt with a strong, accurate throw. Freshman right fielder Tanner Glenn ended the game in spectacular fashion with a running, over the shoulder catch of a deep drive by Grant Petrey with a runner on base heading home.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” said Perry. “We’ve handled so much adversity in the first 13 games and had such success in all the close games that we’ve grown up fast. We’re making the plays we have to make.”
The Eagles scored one run in the second, one in the fifth off Bearcats lefty Drew Towery, who served up only five Eagles hits. Airport loaded the bases in the second, starting with a double down the left field line by Feaster followed by a bunt single by Dylan Harrington, but managed just one run. Harrington tallied the only run Hawley would require on a ground out off the bat of Caleb Talton. Taylor Key and freshman Josh Tucker opened the fifth with back-to-back singles and Morris drove in the insurance run with a sacrifice fly.
Branham had two hits and Towery pitched well enough to win most games. Center fielder DeAndre Asbury-Heath showed great speed in range, and ended Airport’s potential big move in the third with a running, diving catch in left-center of a drive by Key that saved at least three runs. Asbury-Heath had a busy night with five putouts in all.
Brookland-Cayce, coached by Charles Assey Jr., dropped to 5-5, 4-2.