Zack Smith’s grand slam home run propelled host White Knoll to an 8-5 win over Blythewood in the Red Bank Invitational (RBI) championship game on Sunday. The Timberwolves went through the four-day preseason tournament with a perfect 4-0 record.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said WK coach Jonny Thompson. “To go get three wins against the caliber of the team we had in the tournament was something I didn’t necessarily expect, but the kids played well. We got key hits and pitched pretty well.”
Smith’s bases-load circuit shot broke a 2-2 tie and put White Knoll in front for good. Blythewood, which finished with a 3-1 RBI report card, took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Timberwolves used two pitchers to get the job done in the finale. Junior right-hander Eric Allen started at went 5.1 innings before giving way to sophomore Robbie Streett.
Josh Shealy and Chris Harrison were WK’s reps on the all-tournament team.
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The Timberwolves open the regular season and Region 5-4A play on Wednesday at North Augusta. White Knoll hopes to contend for a playoff spot and a region pennant this spring with a generally veteran team – at least on the field.
Eight varsity regulars return from a team that went 18-11 a year ago, finished second in Region 4-4A one game behind Lexington, won a district playoff championship and advanced to the Upper State championship tournament. The bad news is the graduation loss of 2008’s top two pitchers – Kyle Lawson and Adam Matthews, who combined for a 12-2 record with one save, 17 starts and 97.1 innings of work.
The primary load will fall on Harrison, Taylor Britain and Hunter Counts. Harrison, who started last season at shortstop and batted .243 with a .370 on-base percentage and scored 17 runs as a freshman, pitched in five games and worked 14 innings last season. Britain got 17 innings of work in eight games. Counts was 3-0 with one save and a 1.03 ERA in 20.1 innings a year ago. Senior left-hander Todd Joyner, Allen and Streett are also in the mix. Joyner worked 13.2 innings last season , but neither Allen nor Streett not pitched a single varsity inning last spring. Senior left-hander Todd Joyner.
Things are more settled in the lineup. Counts moves from right field to center and Joyner is set in right. Both saw regular action a year ago. The infield defense is anchored by senior catcher Austin Dunn, a three-year starter. Sealy and Harrison are back on the left side of the infield and Zack Smith is filling in for the injured Corey Holmes at first base.
Smith and Holmes are the top returning hitters in the bunch. Smith batted .323 with a .905 OPS, nine double, two home runs and 18 RBIs, while Holmes hit .333 with an impressive 1.034 OPS, 20 runs scored, two homers and shared the team RBI lead with Smith.