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By Troy Treasure
The confluence of circumstances almost seemed prearranged.
Thursday, April 1 was a special day for South Shelby head baseball coach Jacob Rich for clear reasons.
In what was not an April Fools’ Day prank, North Shelby’s football defensive coordinator of 2020 set up shop in the third base coach’s box at Gene Tuggle Memorial Field wearing Cardinal red and blue.
Rich’s father, Brent, was watching. So, too, were his mother, Jennifer, and his maternal grandparents, Dean and Virginia Henderson – younger brother, J.D., played second base for NS.
In the rivals’ annual diamond tilt, South held off North 7-6.
The win was a milestone for Rich – his first as a varsity head coach, against his alma mater and versus his former coach.
“It was definitely a unique situation,” Rich said. “It was a weird feeling driving into the driveway for the first time as a visitor and not being the home team.”
Rich seems to be enthusiastic on any given day. Thursday, both prior to and during the game, he appeared to have extra hop in his steps.
“I’ve coached every single one of these boys over there. Coaching against them just added to that unique, weird feeling,” he said.
Trailing 7-5, NS rallied in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Justin Lunsford nursed a lead-off walk; then stole second. With two out, Rob Uhlmeyer made it 7-6 with an RBI single to left.
With Kyle Smith due up, Rich replaced starter Keaton Pantaleo with Trey Countryman. Uhlmeyer was able to steal second and third, but Countryman induced Smith to pop out ending the game.
“We had the guy we wanted up with the tying run at third,” Raiders head coach Scott Gaines said.
“Countryman made a good pitch to get Kyle out.”
There was no scoring through the first two innings.
The Cardinals (1-1) took a 2-0 lead in the third. Jayden Baker doubled with one out followed by Garrett Blaise’s single. Pantaleo’s single scored Baker. Blaise plated on an error.
South scored a single run in the fourth, but North added pair of its own in the bottom of the inning powered by Josh Hunolt’s 2-run double.
SS took a 7-2 lead with a 4-run fifth. With the bases loaded, Zaiden Wood blasted a 3-run double to center field. Luke Magruder added an RBI single to center.
The Cardinals had a chance to blow the game open in the sixth. Hunolt started the inning in relief of Uhlmeyer and worked out of a 2-out jam. An infield single, error and walk loaded the bases, but Countryman grounded out.
NS (2-1) scored three times in the sixth. Uhlmeyer laced a lead-off single to left, stole second and plated on Smith’s double to left. Casey Shockley drove in Smith with a single to left and advanced to second on a throw to home plate. He later scored on Landon Bender’s ground out.
“If I’ve learned anything about this group through three games, it’s that they don’t give up. That’s a great team trait to have,” Gaines said. “We have battled back in our last two games and we just came up short against South.”
Pantaleo yielded six hits with six strikeouts and two walks in 6.2 innings.
“The plan wasn’t for him to go that long, but he was able to get three outs without getting his pitch count up,” Rich said. “He pitched about as good as I think he could have. He might have gotten a little too fancy in 0-2 counts but, other than that, fundamentally, this kid had a freakin’ awesome game.”
“Pretty much through most of the game, I was feeling good,” Pantaleo said. “There toward the end, I let off some speed but other than that, I think I did alright.”
Uhlmeyer had eight strikeouts and three walks while giving up nine hits in five innings.
Gaines recalled his first coaching victory with North Shelby – 10-2 against Novinger on March 19, 2007.
“I’m happy for Jacob but, obviously, I wish his first win would have come against someone else,” Gaines said. “He has a solid, young team and they should just keep getting better.”
Gaines said Rich was a senior on North’s district championship team in 2015.
“He and Chas Shockley were the 1-2 pitching duo in that title run,” he said.
“Being able to compete against my high school coach, it was a fun time. These guys definitely stepped up; they knew how bad I wanted to win this game just from a personal aspect,” Rich said of the Cardinals.
“I loved our energy tonight and just the enthusiasm these guys had.”
NOTES: Rob Uhlmeyer was 3 of 4 (all singles) and stole four bases … Keaton Pantaleo was 2 of 3, both singles … South’s infield produced nine groundball outs … Uhlmeyer was thrown out at home plate by South left fielder Jayden Baker on a bang-bang play in the fourth inning.