Benton's Woodward returns

Benton's Woodward returns

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Benton's Woodward returns

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Benton’s strength lies in its pitching with arms like Jordan Shaffer and Aaron Henigan.

But the Tigers’ offense might be starting to wake up, helped by the return of first baseman Branson Woodward.

Woodward had surgery on a torn meniscus in his knee suffered in January practice, but the junior hasn’t skipped a beat in his first week back.

He’s batting 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a home run in his first two games.

“Yeah I am surprised because I’m on time with the pitch,” Woodward said. “I’m staying relaxed at the plate, and I’m swinging at balls early in the count.

“I hadn’t seen any pitching in the two months I was out, but I was really really hungry to get back. I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent because the knee still hurts a little bit, but I tore it in the perfect place because I don’t put much torque there.”

Woodward hit a game-tying home run in what would be a 5-4 loss at Northwood on Tuesday, but coach JD Stephens said Woodward is a welcomed addition for a Tigers’ offense that piled up 10 hits in the loss.

“He’s picked up where he left off early in the spring, and the kid wants it,” Stephens said. “Every other hitter is a lot more confident knowing that he’s in the lineup.

“Having him back in the middle of the order gives us more confidence in the plate.”

Benton (14-7) plays at Loyola today at 4 p.m.

Other hot bats include Cameron Horton (.357 average, 23 RBIs) and Jordan Shaffer (.361 average, 18 RBIs, 21 runs scored).

“Even when we were in the tournaments early in the season, we got everybody’s ace,” Woodward said of watching most of the season. “They want to pitch against our guys.

“We’ll have to win one-run games come playoff time, and we got a taste of that (Tuesday).”

Evangel, North Webster battle for 1-3A lead

The Evangel and North Webster baseball teams stood toe-to-toe in the Eagles’ 4-0 win Tuesday in what Knights’ coach Chris Brooks called a “high pressure, playoff-type” atmosphere in Springhill.

With the unofficial District 1-3A title on the line, the two teams will do it again Thursday at Evangel.

The Eagles scored two runs each in the sixth and seventh innings to finally pull away, but coach Tim Hulett said he expects another tough test Thursday.

“Both sides understand that this series is for at least a share of the district title,” said Hulett, referring to the new district structure in which teams play their two contests in the same week. “(Tuesday) had that feel to it, and we expect it again.

“North Webster made great defensive plays to keep it scoreless until the sixth inning, and then Patrick Crouch got a hit on a hit and run to put runners on second and third, and we got runs that inning.”

Brooks said Evangel (13-7-1, 1-0) had runners on base all night, and the Eagles finally broke through.

But his Knights (13-4, 0-1) won’t be lacking in confidence going on the road, where they beat Evangel in the 2013 regular season before the Eagles knocked the Knights out of the Class 2A quarterfinals en route to a championship.

“By the end of the year, Evangel will be one of the best if not the best team in Class 3A,” Brooks said. “It’s good to play them to see where we stack up and what we need to improve on.

“We split the district title with them last season. We tried to avoid talking about them until this week, but once our Saturday game was done, personally and as a team, we were excited to finally give our full attention to these guys.”

The district title is likely on the line Thursday with Bossier and Mansfield each having two overall wins. An Evangel win basically secures a title while a North Webster win likely means sharing the crown.

The Eagles have won seven of their last eight games, and Hulett said the offense and defense is catching up to solid pitching.

Shane Miears pitched six scoreless innings in Tuesday’s win.

“We turned a corner about a week and a half ago,” Hulett said. “We were inconsistent defensively and erratic offensively, and pitching has been the bright spot.

“But now the hitting and defense has picked up.”

North Webster has leaned on its arms as well, and Dillon Modisette fended off Evangel for most of Tuesday’s game.

“Pitching and defense is how we win. We’re not going to outhit anybody,” Brooks said. “We’ve taken a road warrior mentality in the past and have had success down there.

“We’ve battle some consistency issues like beating a good Minden team then not showing up against a good Lakeside team … but we’ve been playing better defense since we shifted Gunner McEachern to third base, where he’s a more natural fit.”

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