SULLIVAN -- While the Clay City Eels didn't open their season with a victory, their 4-1 defeat on the road to Sullivan was far from a complete disappointment. When you consider that the Eels were facing the sixth-ranked 3A squad in the state who return a very strong nucleus and that the Eels are trying to replace seven seniors from last year, Thursday's season opener wasn't a total loss.
"I just hope that the kids realize that if we'd cut down on our mistakes we were right in this game," said Clay City coach Michael Owens.
In fact the Eels gave Sullivan a pair of second inning runs as Larry Swain reached first base on a catcher's interference call with one out and moved to third as the throw from Clay City catcher Derek Miller on a steal attempt slipped into centerfield.
Wes Drew came to the plate and reached on a fielder's choice. His steal of second would bring home Swain as another error on the throw sent Swain home for the first run of the game. Drew would then score as Billy Clark laid down a perfect squeeze bunt. The Eels would get out of the inning after Jed Smith singled and was caught stealing.
Shane Noble kept the Eels at bay through the first four innings, at one point striking out six straight Eels' batters and holding Clay City scoreless.
However, Noble was relieved by Drew in the fifth inning. Clay City's Klay Knox reached first base on an error and moved to second on a stolen base. After a Jordan Staley strikeout and a Ben Harris groundout, Miller would reach first on a slow, rolling grounder that was bobbled. Knox would score on the play and the Eels were within one run.
Clay City's Brock Dyer kept the Eels within one run heading into the fifth inning when he got in a bit of trouble as Smith reached base for the fourth time in the game and moved to second on a Drew single. Grow would single to short centerfield to load the bases before Noble singled home a pair of runs.
Dyer would, however, get himself out of the inning when he snared a line drive from Brian Jones and forced Grow out at second base and get Nick Vandergriff to popout.
Sullivan would bring in Swain, Drew and Grow to relieve for an inning apiece. The Eels were unable to mount a comeback as Brandon Wells single in the sixth inning was the lone basehit for Clay City following hits by Ryan Schroer and a double by Wells in the opening frame.
"I think that this is a measuring stick for us," said Owens. "I thought we got good pitching from Brock (Dyer) and Klay (Knox), but our hitting needs some work, which we knew coming in to the game."
The Eels (0-1 overall) will host the Eastern Thunderbirds next Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in a varsity contest. The junior varsity team will visit Sullivan on Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Sullivan 4, Clay City 1
2B -- Clay City (Wells), Sullivan (none). SB -- Clay City (none), Sullivan (Swain, Grow). CS -- Sullivan (Smith).