HAMILTON — Ethan Earnest has home run power.
Problem is, the left-handed hitting junior had only shown the ability to deliver the long ball that girls love in practice.
But that all changed Saturday with one swing.
Earnest”s timing couldn”t have been any better, as his two-run home run to right field sparked a four-run fifth inning that fueled the Hamilton High School baseball team to a 6-2 victory against Caledonia.
Earnest took advantage of an all-time favorite for left-handed hitters — a low, inside pitch — that he pulled down the line and through the wind to help the Lions (7-2) win their fifth game in a row.
“It is one of the best pitches to hit, and one of my favorites,” Earnest said of the breaking ball he hit to give his team the lead. “Right off the bat I knew it was out. I wasn”t quite sure if it was going to make it fair or not. The way I hit it I figured it would.”
Hamilton was coming off 8-0 and 10-0 victories against Calhoun City on Tuesday and Friday. The Lions had 13 hits in each of those victories, but it wasn”t until the fifth inning Saturday that their bats broke the game open.
Austin Lewis reached on an error to set the stage for Earnest, whose home run gave Hamilton a 3-2 lead. Leadoff Pritchett”s double knocked starting pitcher Brandon Darling from the game. Parker Rye greeted reliever Caleb Brown with a bunt single that pushed Pritchett to third base. Rye got caught in a rundown attempting to steal second that allowed Pritchett to score. Following a second out, Austin Welch and Kyle Dahlem doubled to account for the five-hit inning.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said his son”s home run definitely was inside the foul poll. He said the home run was his first in a high school game.
“He was injured the past couple of years and hasn”t had a whole lot of at-bats,” Earnest said. “We were just waiting for it to happen, and he finally got a hold of one. He has a lot of pop in his bat.”
Pritchett”s double in the sixth scored Lewis for the final run.
Rye and Welch led the Lions with three hits, while Pritchett added a pair of hits.
“We”re actually hitting the ball better than we did last year at any time last year,” Lewis Earnest said.
Ethan Earnest, a left-hander, had shoulder surgery two years ago. He said he is still regaining his rhythm on the mound. Limited to only 65 pitches, he struck out six, walked two and surrendered one earned run on two hits in 2 2/3 innings. Brandon Fikes shut the Confederates (3-7) down from there, allowing only one hit in the final 4 1/3 innings. He struck out one and benefited from two double plays, which helped him face the minimum number of hitters.
Coach Earnest considered starting Fikes or Lee Sanders, but thought his son needed to get a few innings to help build his confidence.
Ethan Earnest said he felt “all right” and is rebuilding his confidence. He said he continues to throw bullpen sessions and to do long tosses to push his velocity back to where it needs to be. He said he has a long way to go and that he feels it is getting better.
Caledonia coach John Wilson didn”t agree with the fair call on the home run. The first-year coach said he wasn”t sure if Hamilton would have rallied in the fifth without the blast, but he acknowledged his team didn”t do enough to put the game away when it had a 2-1 lead. He said the game was similar to Friday night, when Zach Senneff (eight strikeouts) pitched well in a 4-1 loss to Amory. The Confederates left the bases loaded in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings.
“We had seven hits (against Amory), but we just didn”t get the hit when we needed it,” Wilson said. “We”re not bad, but we don”t know how to finish a game. When you”re up 2-1 in the fifth you should be stepping on their throat.”
Matt Gresham”s groundout scored Trey Lancaster, who had singled, in the second. Senneff walked, stole second base, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an outfield error in the third.
A year removed from losing to Richton in the Class 2A state final, Ethan Earnest feels the Lions have solid pitching depth and a balanced lineup that could help them play into May. His development on the mound could give Hamilton a fifth pitcher with varsity experience the team could combine with a potent offense to make things happen.
“I feel we”re more aggressive with the bat this year,” Earnest said. “We have six seniors, five of them start. We have a lot of juniors coming up and we”re all stepping up and starting to be a lot more aggressive. I think this year”s team is a lot better hitting and a lot more aggressive.”
Said Lewis Earnest, “Since the second week of the season, we have thrown the ball good and we have started hitting the ball better. We didn”t this game until the middle of the game, but if we keep swinging the bat like we did the last half of that game and like we have the past two weeks we ought to be all right.”
Earnest said Hamilton will have to swing the bat like it did late in the game Saturday because it faces Bruce on Tuesday (on the road) and Friday (at home). Bruce beat Hamilton in the Class 2A North state final, but a ruling about pitching restrictions in a week by the Mississippi High School Activities Association gave Hamilton a chance to play for the state title.
Earnest feels the 2011 team has the potential to be better at the plate that last season”s team.
“Austin threw (Friday night) against Calhoun City, and that was the hardest he threw in a long time. We have (University of Mississippi signee) Chase (Reeves) from the left side who throws just as hard. We have Fikes and Lee Sanders, who is a little slower, but when he throws strikes he is effective. If we can get some innings out of Ethan (that would be a bonus). He just hasn”t had the time on the mound he needs. We have some other guys who can throw strikes, too. I feel good about our pitching if we just keep swinging the bat.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.