HAMLET — A condensed roster hindered the Hamlet American Legion baseball team on Thursday, which saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.
Missing several players due to prior commitments at their respective high schools, Post 49 suffered a 7-3 loss to non-conference Florence Post 1.
Unable to keep the comeback magic alive, Hamlet took an early lead but fell behind in the middle innings.
The 49ers also faced a strong start from Zach Hunt, who pitched 5.1 innings. He allowed two runs on five hits.
“We were off-kilter tonight with some guys not being here and some entering the game late,” head coach Chip Gordon said. “But we still had a baseball game to play and I felt like we had a team that could run with them.
“We just came out a little flat and didn’t get the breaks,” he added. “In baseball you have to be lucky and good. Tonight we were good, we just didn’t get those lucky breaks. But overall, I was pleased with the guys’ efforts.”
Hamlet tattooed several line drives and fly balls to the gaps, but a strong Florence defense tracked them down. The team’s six hits were a season-low and the first time not reaching double digits in a game.
Skyler Mathis got the start for Hamlet and retired Post 1 in order to begin the game. In the bottom of the first, James Eason reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to third on two wild pitches from Hunt.
Jackson Kuhn recorded his fourth RBI of the season to give Hamlet a 1-0 lead. He sent a ground ball to second base which allowed Eason to score.
Florence used back-to-back singles off Mathis (4 IP, eight hits, six runs) and a throwing error to tie the game in the top of the second. An RBI single and a sac fly to left field gave the visiting team a 3-1 lead.
Hamlet went quietly in the home half and Mathis worked himself out of a one-out bases-loaded jam in the top of the third. Third baseman Markey Purvis saved a run on a 5-2 fielder’s choice and Hunter Meeds tracked down a fly ball in center to end the threat.
Josh Williams hit a solo shot to right field in the top of the fourth, and an RBI double and an RBI single later in the inning pushed Florence’s lead to 6-1.
With runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the fourth, Hunter Huneycutt smoked a liner back up the middle that was caught. One of the unlucky breaks, Meeds was doubled off at first to end the inning.
“(Hunt) pitched great, but I don’t think he was any better than anybody we’ve faced this year,” Gordon said. “He was in the zone and we hit the ball hard, we just didn’t get it to fall tonight. We had a couple of times with the bases loaded and we hit missiles, but it was right at somebody.”
Taking over on the mound in the fifth, Huneycutt went to work and was efficient by facing just four batters. He tossed 3 innings and allowed just one run on one hit.
After Hamlet stranded another runner in the bottom of the innings, one of six runners stranded in the game, Huneycutt mowed through Florence’s lineup for a 1-2-3 top of the sixth.
Kuhn led off the bottom of the sixth with a base knock to center and scored when Huneycutt drew a bases-loaded walk four batters later. JD Scarbrough smacked a hard-hit ground ball back up the middle, but Post 1 turned a 6-3 double play to hold onto a four-run lead.
An RBI single from Williams in the top of the seventh accounted for Florence’s final run of the game. In the at-bat prior, Purvis saved another run when he fielded a ground ball at third and threw home to Kuhn, who applied the tag to Jackson Moore.
Down to their final three outs, the 49ers scored one last time in the seventh. Ashton Phifer, who is tied with Eason for the team’s highest batting average (.500), smacked a leadoff double off the Wilbur Dome in center.
Tagging up to third on a fly ball to center, Phifer scored when Kuhn reached on a throwing error at short.
Tristan Hunt and Ryley Norton finished the game with two singles each, while Phifer (double) and Kuhn each had a hit. Kuhn and Huneycutt recorded one RBI apiece.
“We played a heck of a schedule this first week,” Gordon closed. “Five games in six days is a tough ask for anybody. I’m happy to come out of this week with three wins, and we’ve shown we’re a team that can compete.
“There are some things we need to work on and we’ll address those. We’ll be back Monday ready to rock and roll against a good conference team.”
Hamlet (3-2) will return to action on Monday at home for its first Area 2 conference game. The 49ers will host Brunswick Post 543 at 7 p.m.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Thursday’s game soon.