By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
Don't look now but the Cannon County baseball team is playing its best ball at the right time.
The Lions (7-19-1, 3-9) swept Macon County in a District 8-AA series last week, marking their first sweep of a league foe this season. They had won three straight and five of their last six heading into a conference series at York last weekend.
"I think it shows how focused the team is," said Lions coach Justin Fann. "Early in the season I told the players not to worry about the wins and losses because things happen with a young team. We wanted to focus on the process of getting better every day and see if we can't get hot for the district tournament. It seems we are."
Outstanding pitching helped key the Lions sweep of Macon County.
Sophomore Tucker Francis pitched a gem Monday. Junior Jake Todd provided a superlative effort Tuesday as the Lions completed the sweep.
Francis turned in a complete-game effort as the Lions turned back Macon County, 7-3, Monday. Francis struck out 12, walked none and scattered eight hits.
"It feels good to get a district win," Francis said. "We have been playing better and with more confidence. I seemed to have control of my pitches and was able to pitch ahead in the count. That was the key."
Todd was dynamic in his Tuesday start as the Lions chalked up a 3-0 road win for their first shutout of the season. Todd was masterful as he went the distance and pitched a two-hitter. Macon County got a first-inning single and a third-inning single. That was it against Todd.
"I was able to throw more strikes and stay in the zone," Todd said. "I feel like I have pitched pretty well but control would be an issue and run my pitch count up. I felt more consistent and my defense made all the plays."
Juniors Nick Vassar and Trent Bragg were the hitting stars for the Lions in the district opener against Macon County. Vassar was 3-for-4 with three runs scored. Bragg was 2-for-4 with four RBI in the three hole. Jackson Mason was 1-for-2 with one RBI, and Francis was 1-for-3.
The Lions went on top 2-0 in the bottom of the first. Vassar singled and Austin Martin followed with a walk. Bragg's hit plated both runs to put the Lions in front early.
They never trailed.
Cannon County added a second-inning run when Vassar singled with two outs and scored on a throwing error.
It was 3-1 going to the third when the Lions added two big insurance runs. Francis singled, Todd reached on an error and Mason drove both runs home with a clutch hit to push the lead to 5-1. Bragg drove in two more runs in the fourth to build a comfortable cushion.
Francis appreciated the run support - something he has not had much of in his quality starts throughout the season. It was nice, but unnecessary.
The strong righty was in control throughout the game. He faced just three batters in four of the seven innings and was never allowed Macon County to pose a serious challenge.
"It's about time we got some runs and a win for Tucker, it really is," Fann said. "He has pitched the first game of every district series and has given us every chance to win. This was our best overall game of the year."
Todd followed Francis' strong outing with a great one of his own.
The junior righty needed 100 pitches to stymie the Macon County order. One of his two hits allowed was a leadoff single. He retired 11 in a row from the third inning until issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh.
"Jake had a dominant performance," Fann said. "He threw a lot of strikes and was in control. As long as you throw strikes hitters will get themselves out as long as the defense makes plays."
Todd has to be near flawless as the game was scoreless through five in a classic pitcher's duel. Cannon County managed only three hits. Vassar, Martin and Mason each provided singles.
The Lions broke through in the top of the sixth when Vassar collected a one-out single and went to third on Martin's base hit. Vassar eventually scored on a passed ball for the only run Cannon County would need.
The Lions added two insurance runs in the seventh. Josh Williams was hit by a pitch and Preston Campbell reached on an error. The Lions pushed both runners across as they took advantage of two Macon County miscues.
"It was scoreless throughout the game and that tells you how much we have grown," Fann said. "We didn't make mistakes. We capitalized on their mistakes and ended up scoring three runs off of their errors. We will take a win anyway we can get it."