COVINGTON, Ga. — By the time Mahlon Phelps took the plate as Alcovy’s last batter in its first game against Greenbrier Tuesday, the outcome was already all but decided.
No. 7 Greenbrier took an 8-0 win in the first of a three-game Region 3-AAAAAA series. The Wolfpack’s performance was punctuated by a towering shot over the left center fence by Greenbrier’s Justin Stevens in the top of the final frame that provided the final margin.
At that point, Caleb Griffith had taken the mound for Alcovy in relief of starting pitcher Hunter Owensby who held on pretty solid during earlier innings before Greenbrier started steadily building its lead, beginning in the fourth inning.
But as Phelps and the previous pair of batters before him stood to take their chances against Greenbrier pitching, there were no hanging heads. The dugout was still alive with chatter, playful banter and shouts of encouragement, and coach Jimmy Hughes even cracked a smile or two.
Coming into Friday’s doubleheader at Greenbrier, Alcovy (7-8, 0-4 in Region 3-AAAAAA before Friday’s game) had not only lost its first four region games, but had done so while being outscored 42-5. That sounds tough, but when you talk with Hughes, you get the feeling that the uptick in competition that came with the start of region play wasn’t at all unexpected.
“Our region is tough,” Hughes said. “Obviously the pitching we’re seeing is very good at this level. The (Bryce) Melear kid that we just saw is a Georgia commit. He threw the ball well. I thought we had a chance to get to him early when we strung a couple of hits together in the second. Had a chance to get the lead, but we didn’t necessarily hit behind the runner, we don’t force the issue and as a result he’s settled in.”
Melear tossed a complete game four-hitter against the Tigers on Tuesday, but the Tigers did have some moments early on. In the bottom of the second Chandler Hicks and Raquis Holmes opened it with back-to-back singles, but those two were left on base after Chris Burney and Trace Payne struck out and Andrew Mills hit a ground out to shut down one of Alcovy’s best scoring threats.
As for Owensby, he pitched five innings and recorded six strikeouts. He gave up nine hits, but he surrendered just three of them in the first three innings.
“I felt as though Hunter pitched well enough to get a win (Tuesday) night,” Hughes said. “He didn’t throw well on last Thursday against Evans, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. But he did a great job with minor adjustments in the bullpen. He did a good job of keeping it in the game. I told him I felt he deserved a better fate than what he got.”
Hughes has been pleased with Owensby's development, and he said his improvement has done nothing but strengthen the Alcovy bullpen.
"We were looking for someone to step up behind (Ryan) Spikes in the rotation, and Hunter's shown flashes of that," Hughes said. "But (Tuesday) he showed that he was truly going to be that guy."
Tuesday was still a better outcome than what Alcovy experienced in the three games it played against Evans last year.
“Last year three we played three games with these guys, and only 13 total innings,” Hughes said. “We wanted to play seven innings with them. We’re not where we want to be yet, but I feel we’re still going in the right direction. It’s frustrating when you play well but get beat. But we have an opportunity to get better with two games against them (today).”
And Hughes believes that if the Tigers can just pull out one win Friday — even by the slimmest of margins — it could be the start of something special.
“I firmly believe we’re one win away from the corner being turned here,” he said. “We’ve just gotta find it, in one way, shape or form.”