PRINCETON — The grass was green, the sky was dry, and the stakes were high on Monday night.
The 47th annual Allen D. Coppinger Jr. Baseball Tournament pitted the two high school baseball teams of northern Mercer County on the pristine turf of Hunnicutt Field. The offenses, and the 10-run mercy rule, ultimately dictated the outcome.
An inside-the-park home run by Grant Cochran helped propel the Princeton Tigers to an eight-run fourth inning and a 15-5 come-from-behind victory.
Only one hit, a thread-the-needle single by Connor Lilly, was recorded over the first three innings, but after those three frames the score was already 3-1 in favor of Princeton.
Two Tigers scored in one sequence with two outs in the bottom of the first, on some PikeView fielding miscues.
The Panthers’ Sammy Lyle led off the next inning with a walk and sped home after the infield fly rule was invoked with the bases loaded.
Jordan Bailey restored a two-run margin for Princeton in the third. He was hit by a pitch to reach first, stole second and third, and got home on a passed ball with two outs.
In the top of the fourth, PikeView (1-5) gained a brief 5-3 lead, using three walks, a hit batter and a two-RBI single by Jared Vestal.
Seven batters scored in the Tigers’ decisive fourth-inning uprising.
Cochran drove the first pitch of his at-bat to the warning track in center field, where it rolled to the wall before it was retrieved. Cochran touched the corners of the diamond and scored standing up. Then, with his momentum built up, he accidentally flattened a teammate waiting to congratulate him.
“We sent him (home),” said Princeton head coach Austin Southcott. “They had to make a tough throw to get him out, and he made it in there. Grant does it all for us. … He’s a five-tool player out here.”
Before the inning was over, Brock Halsey brought two runs home with a two-out double and pinch hitter Spencer Turner banged an RBI triple. Johnathan “Snoop” Higginbotham crossed the plate twice in the inning and Princeton led 11-5.
The Tigers’ defense kept the Panthers from advancing past second base in the top of the fifth, and the offense scored four runs by four consecutive batters in the bottom of the frame.
Ethan Nelson rushed home from third base on a wild pitch to allow Princeton to reach the 10-run lead that ended the game.
That gave Cochran the pitching win in relief. He allowed two runs and one hit in two innings.
The learning process continues for both teams.
“We’ve been getting better on a day-to-day basis,” Southcott said. “We just keep working (and) it finally comes together.”
“We finally started making plays in the field. We cut our errors down. And we continue to hit the ball a little bit better, every game. The more live pitching they see, the better they get.”
Princeton will travel to Bowen Field on Thursday for a 5 p.m. Coppinger semifinal game against the Bluefield Beavers. The other semifinal is scheduled for the same time Thursday in Princeton, pitting Shady Spring against Woodrow Wilson.
Southcott said about surviving the group round of the Coppinger, “We needed this one tonight. So did they (PikeView), just to move on to the next round.”
“It was a big win for the guys. I’m happy for them. They deserve it.”
PikeView, which came into Monday’s contest allowing an average of 15.2 runs per game, will host Liberty at 5:30 p.m. Friday.