ELKIN - Elkin senior Jamey Cranford had never had a walk-off hit before in his high school career.
The slugger changed all that with one monstrous swing Thursday night against bitter rival Starmount on a windy, frigid night.
Cranford turned on a 1-0 pitch and cranked a two-run walk-off shot over the cement in right field to give the Buckin’ Elks the thrilling 11-9 victory in baseball’s Battle of the Bridge.
“That was great. Never had a walk-off hit before, so that is definitely atop my senior memories of high school,” Cranford said, all smiles after being mobbed at home plate by his teammates. “It was definitely sweeter to do it against Starmount. We’re Battle of the Bridge champs; tried to get a little revenge for football. It felt great.”
But it was Cranford’s heroics in the bottom of the fifth that set up the game-winning jack.
After watching Starmount plate eight runs in the top of the frame to grab a seemingly comfortable 8-4 advantage, the Elks battled back.
Seth Creed drew a lead-off walk before Ted Shore followed with a double to deep right. After two quick outs, Drew Shinkle loaded the bases with a walk to set up Cranford.
The senior belted Samuel Stone’s offering to dead center field for the game-tying grand slam that traveled close to 400 feet, landing three quarters up the grass hill under the scoreboard.
“I went up there looking for a strike, I wasn’t trying to be a hero or anything,” Cranford explained. “I was just looking to make contact with it and see what it would it do. It was the right pitch at the right time and the right swing.
“That was my first high school grand slam, so I’m looking for many more,” he added.
Frank Miller followed with a deep home run down the left-field line on the next pitch to give Elkin the 9-8 advantage.
“[The comeback] was pretty amazing - that shows a lot of character and a lot of grit because they could have rolled died. I asked them when they came off the field in the fifth inning ‘are y’all done?’ They said no and proved it. I’m tickled to death,” Elkin head coach Steve Martin said.
Starmount answered in the top of the sixth, tying the game once again at 9-all on a perfectly executed hit-and-run as Hunter Myers plated Zack Worley.
After Elkin went down in order in the sixth and the Rams couldn’t capitalize on a lead-off walk in the top of the seventh, the Elks headed to the final frame with a chance to win it.
Seth Haynes led off the inning with a single to left before Shinkle moved him into the scoring position on a sacrifice bunt to the pitch, setting up Cranford’s heroics.
“We’ve been waiting for Jamey to do that for two years,” Martin said. “It’s time for him to break out. He has the capability to hit it out anywhere that we play. He has tremendous power. And if he gets on a roll, it’s going to be ugly for other teams.
“It was a heck of a ballgame. I’m proud of them,” he added.
Starmount head coach Mike McCann said the loss was another heart-breaker in a string of tough-luck defeats. The Rams have lost three games by three runs or less to open the season, in addition to taking 1A power West Wilkes to extra innings in the season opener.
“Very tough loss,” he said. “It was a lack of execution on our part. We dug ourselves a hole early on so we had to play catch-up ball the rest of the game. There was no panic mode going on in the dugout.
“If we can come out and not shoot ourselves in the foot, I think we’ll be okay. We did a lot of good things tonight,” McCann added. “We can’t keep saying it’s early for too much longer because we’ve played too many games now.”
The Elks were unable to ride the momentum of the Battle of the Bridge win into Friday’s game against East Wilkes in Ronda.
The Cardinals pushed across five runs in the first two innings to build a comfortable advantage, powered by Zach Crabb. The junior pitched a complete-game gem, while also going 2-for-3 at the dish with a two-run shot in the second.
Chandler Bare, Sean Byers, McKinley Johnson and Colby Holcomb all recorded a hit apiece for East Wilkes.
Drew Shinkle paced the Elkin offense with a bases-clearing double to lead a comeback bid late that fell just short.
Starmount dropped another tough decision to Wilkes Central Friday night. The Eagles scored four runs in the fifth to battle back and stun the Rams 8-7 in Moravian Falls.
Both squads return to the diamond Tuesday night, as Starmount heads to East Bend to take on Forbush, while Elkin hosts Ashe County.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.