No one would mistake Airline’s dominant baseball team for an offensive juggernaut this season.
Strong pitching performances continue to be the key to success, and Cameron Parikh turned in another one to quiet Byrd’s powerful lineup in a 5-3 road win Tuesday night. But the Vikings (18-4, 4-1 District 1-5A) wouldn’t be the No. 5 team in the latest kenramsey 5A power rankings without a knack for scoring runs and finding hits at just the right times.
“We’re just playing really competitive right now,” right fielder Hayden Waxley said. “Byrd’s always a good team to beat. They’re always real competitive, too, so we’ve got to just one up them every time.”
The leadoff man’s two singles made him the only Airline player with multiple hits, including one to open the game. Yellow Jackets ace Andrew Suggs had to work his way out of a jam to keep the Vikings from scoring after they loaded the bases with one out.
Coach Toby Todd made sure that didn’t happen again in the second when he called for Waxley to lay down a safety squeeze after Parikh moved baserunners to second and third on a sacrifice bunt of his own. Waxley said batting practice always begins with bunts and it’s clear anyone in the lineup must be ready to lay one down.
Walks proved crucial to the Airline attack as well, particularly for Chase Hodges, who came around to score after earning a free pass to lead off the second and fourth. The Vikings made Suggs work hard for every out, often taking him deep into counts and only going down in order once through his 6 1/3 innings.
Even though Airline’s 3-4-5-6 hitters went just 1-for-15 with a walk, the bottom of the order came up big, highlighted by Cameron Parikh’s two-run single in the fourth. That put the Vikings ahead 3-0, a rare comfortable lead considering they had won three games by a score of 2-1 prior to last Saturday’s 8-0 rout of Parkway.
Byrd (16-7, 6-1) would close within one on Henry Lott’s sixth-inning RBI single, but a pair of costly errors gave Airline an insurance run in the seventh. Although the Vikings deserve credit for aggressive baserunning and putting pressure on the defense, Yellow Jackets coach Greg Williams rightly lamented five errors that didn’t mix well with Suggs’ four walks.
“He’ll tell you he didn’t have his best stuff,” Williams said. “But he competed and gave us a shot to win at the end and that’s all you ask for.”
Parikh pitched just a little better over his six innings, lowering his season ERA to a miniscule 1.12 to improve to 5-1. Waxley came in for a one-inning save to hand Byrd its first district loss, dishing out some revenge for the Yellow Jackets’ first-round playoff win at Airline last season.
Perhaps it’s partly the hunger created by that upset that drives the Vikings to do whatever it takes to come out on top. They’ve won 16 of their last 18 and could move into sole possession of first place in 1-5A by completing the two-game sweep of Byrd on Thursday, when Todd expects another tough battle.
“It was a good team performance in terms of battling by both squads to the very last out,” Todd said. “They had the tying run at the plate and their guys are standing at the rail and our guys are standing at the rail and it’s a great atmosphere. If you paid $6, you got $6 worth.”