Tates Creek has risen to No. 1 in the baseball ratings because more often than not it has risen to the occasion at crunch time this spring.
The Commodores' 7-4 win over district rival Paul Laurence Dunbar Thursday night provided another example of their clutch play.
Tates Creek had seen a 5-1 lead shrink to 5-4 after Dunbar scored three runs in the top of the sixth inning. All of a sudden the No. 7 Bulldogs had the momentum and the more spirited dugout.
The Commodores needed to respond in the bottom of the sixth. They loaded the bases with two outs, and Jarren Shelby came to the plate.The sophomore left-fielder had struck out in his first three at-bats, but he didn't let that bother him.
"I just had to clear my mind and get the job done for my team," he said.
Shelby promptly ripped a double off the left-field wall, driving in Devin Hairston and Jordan Fucci to make it 7-4.
Tanner McCoy came on in relief of Tanner Hart in the seventh to close out Tates Creek's 17th victory in 21 games.
"These kids believe in themselves, and the coaches believe in them at crunch time," Coach Dom Fucci said. "Like Jarren ... he had a rough night at the plate, but he came up and got that big hit for us."
Jordan Fucci, the coach's son, led the Commodores' offense. The junior first baseman went 3-for-3, drove in two runs and scored once.
He wasn't surprised Dunbar staged a comeback.
"In this district, you can't ever let up because these teams always compete till the game's over," he said. "We knew we had to keep playing."
Tates Creek took an early lead, getting two runs in the first and two in the second.
Fucci and Hart each singled in both innings, and each collected RBI. Blake Rose and Hairston each had a hit off Conner McHugh.
That 4-0 cushion figured to be plenty for Hart, the Commodores' ace. But the senior righthander ran into trouble in the late innings.
Dunbar loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but Hart limited the damage. He surrendered only one run on Conner Huskey's sacrifice fly that drove in McHugh.
After Tates Creek answered with a run in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-1, the Bulldogs scored three in the sixth thanks in part to a pair of Commodore errors.
Joseph Graf and McHugh drove in runs for Dunbar, which would've scored more if not for some nifty glove work by Tates Creek second baseman Curtis Bethel.
Shelby's two-out, two-run swat gave the Commodores some breathing room in the bottom of the sixth.
Hart improved his record to 7-0 even though he didn't have his best stuff. "It's just about competing," he said. "As long as I limit my walks, throw the ball over the plate and let the guys behind me make plays, it's easy," he said.
Dunbar Coach Seth Knight was glad to see his team battle back "against what is obviously a very good team. They come up with the big hit when they need it; they play defense well, and they contain the running game well.
"We made some mistakes early that hurt us, but our offense woke up enough to put pressure on them," he said.
"We feel we got better today."
TATES CREEK 7, PAUL DUNBAR 4
Paul Dunbar 000 013 0—4 7 3
Tates Creek 220 012 x—7 9 3
Conner McHugh, Isaac Taylor (5) and Wes Walker. Tanner Hart, Tanner McCoy (7) and Max Sweet. 2B—Evan Nicoulin (PD), Jarren Shelby (TC).
Records —Paul Dunbar 15-10; Tates Creek 17-4-1
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.