JUNCTION CITY – It seems that even Mother Nature is having difficulty slowing down Junction City.
Keelan Hodge turned in another dominant outing by striking out 10 en route to a two-hit shutout, as the Dragons downed Woodlawn 7-0 in an 8-2A clash Thursday that was called after five innings due to rain.
The win is the 11th straight for the Dragons (19-6, 6-0), who have not lost since returning from their road swing over spring break.
The game was played in a steady mist before the intensity of the rain grew to the point where the game was stopped with Woodlawn’s Nick Maynard batting with a 2-0 count to start the sixth.
After waiting for the rain to pass, the field was being prepared for the game to resume when it was called.
“After five, really after four I think for a seven-inning game, but after five complete, it’s really a ballgame,” Junction City coach Joe Paul Hammett said. “With it being 7-0 and (Woodlawn coach) Tommy (Richardson) agreed, he said that it was too wet and somebody was liable to get hurt, so we called it. The umpires could’ve, but I wanted to play if we could just to finish the game, but with conditions like they were, it would’ve been dangerous to try and finish it, so we both agreed just to call it right there.”
Charles Hoof keyed the Dragons’ offense by going 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and the senior center fielder made a terrific catch to rob Nick Ward of an extra-base hit with two men on in the third.
Junction City also got a big contribution from the bottom of the order with No. 9 hitter Kelly Graves going 2-for-3.
“We had some big hits, some timely hits,” Hammett said. “Kelly got a couple of big hits for us, and the guys at the top did what they were supposed to do, they drove in some runs.”
The Dragons gave Hodge all of the run support he would need with four runs in the first.
Bryce Ware and Hodge worked Woodlawn (16-5, 4-2) starter Sam West for back-to-back walks to put runners at first and second.
Courtesy runner Chase Wood and Hodge both advanced to third on Jack Smith’s fly out to right-center to put runners at second and third.
That set the stage for Hoof, whose grounder just snuck under the glove of shortstop Jaydon Manus for a two-run single to center to open the scoring.
Hoof took second on the late throw home to get Hodge, but West regrouped and fanned T.J. Bale for the inning’s second out.
West appeared to be out of the inning with no further damage after Tanner McLelland hit a grounder to shortstop, but it was mishandled for an error to put runners at the corners.
With Gabe Richard batting, a wild pitch allowed McLelland to take second.
With runners now at second and third, West tried to pick off Hoof at third, but an errant throw allowed both runners to score to make it 4-0.
Staked to an early lead, Hodge pitched out of trouble in the second and third innings to keep the Bears at bay.
Ward led off the second with a single to left, and one out later, Jaxson Case walked to put runners at first and second.
But that would be the extent of the threat, as Hodge fanned Peyton Sandine before retiring Garrett Cowart on a comebacker to the mound.
Hoof then preserved the shutout with the aforementioned outstanding play in the third.
With two outs and nobody on, Hodge was seemingly headed for a 1-2-3 inning, but Maynard reached on an infield single to third and took second on a throwing error on the play.
With West batting, Maynard went to third on a wild pitch, and West later walked to put runners at the corners.
Ward then hit a rocket to deep center that seemed earmarked to be an extra-base hit off the fence, but Hoof made a leaping catch at the base of the wall in dead center to rob Ward and keep the score at 4-0.
“The Ward kid. He’s a good stick,” Hammett said. “He centered one up and hit it to deep center and they had two men on. It would’ve been 4-2 if we don’t catch it, but Charles made a good catch up against the wall. It didn’t break their back, but we had gotten through that lineup the second time, so we knew we probably wouldn’t face him but one more time, so we felt pretty good then.”
The Dragons then padded their lead with two runs in the bottom of the third.
Smith led off with a base hit to left, and Hoof followed with a double to the fence in left-center to put runners at second and third.
Bale then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 5-0.
With Hoof at second and two outs, West again appeared to be on the verge of minimizing damage after Richard hit a grounder to third, but the ball was misplayed for an error, allowing the sophomore to reach.
Running on the pitch, Hoof went to third, but was able to score due to a wild throw to first.
Hoof was also at the forefront of the Dragons’ final rally in the fifth.
The senior reached on a two-base error after his fly ball to right was dropped.
Hoof then took third on Bale’s ground out to short and scored when McLelland’s blooper down the right-field line fell for a single.
After Hoof’s terrific catch in the third, Hodge struck out five of the next six batters he faced as part of consecutive 1-2-3 innings before the game was called in the sixth.
West took the loss after allowing six runs and four hits in three innings of work. He walked two and struck out three.