Senior night games are always special — a time for players, coaches, and parents to briefly pause and reflect on the commitment and time given all the way from t-ball and little league to varsity.
As the spring sun fell behind the trees Monday evening at Drakes Creek Park, the timeless scene was no different as the Hendersonville High baseball team honored its senior class with a ceremony before taking the field.
Seeming to sense the moment, after walking onto the field with their parents and being presented with a gift by their coaches, the Hendersonville seniors channeled that experience in leading the Commandos to a much-needed 8-1 victory over Sycamore.
“Senior night is something they can remember for the rest of their lives,” Hendersonville Head Coach Mike Hendrix said. “They got a lot of good stuff tonight for being a senior and I told them you can show this to your kids and grandkids one day. I’m happy for them. All the seniors got in and I’m proud for them, because whether they’re great baseball players or whatever they are, they’re all good people. And that counts more than anything in life to me.”
Senior pitcher Jordan Zuger got things started for the Commandos Monday by pitching three scoreless innings and recording six strikeouts, while only allowing one hit.
“These last two weeks have been a little tough on me and tough on the team,” Zuger said after Monday’s win. “We started to get the bats going, started getting a little momentum, so I just wanted to relax and enjoy tonight, create some memories.”
The game was scoreless entering the home half of the third inning, but that was about to change when senior Joe Dalton stepped to the plate. Dalton ripped a shot to left center field, clearing the bases for a three RBI double and giving the Commandos a lead they would never relinquish.
“It was an alright pitch, I got lucky with that one,” Dalton added. “It was high and outside and I took it to about left center and I should have taken it to right center, but it worked out pretty well. It’s big, we needed this win. We needed some momentum going into the tournament.”
Dalton finished the night by going three for four from the plate with two runs scored.
“Joe’s had a good year,” Hendrix said of his senior center fielder. He’s carried us at the plate. When he struggles, we struggle, but he’s doing real well. I’m proud of him. I think Joe can play somewhere next year if somebody will give him a chance. He’s a good kid.”
Hendersonville added two more runs in the inning on an RBI single by senior Hays Pfaffman and an RBI double from senior Gabe Epperson to make the score 5-0.
Wanting to preserve Zuger for the upcoming district tournament, which starts Saturday, Hendrix handed the ball over to pitcher Ryan Oden and seniors Jacob Sheley and Jaxon Smith to close out the game.
“The big thing tonight I think for us was getting Jordan Zuger and Ryan Oden back on track,” Hendrix said. “Their last couple of outings they have not pitched as dominant as they did the first couple times out, and hopefully they got back on track tonight, and they’ll be ready to pitch this coming weekend for the tournament.”
The Commandos scored three more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning as Sycamore manufactured a run in the top of the sixth inning to close out the scoring.
“We keep making some silly errors and just routine plays we haven’t been making very well,” Sycamore Head Coach Matthew Carrigan said. “That’s what causes us to have these big innings to where it’s hard for us to fight back out of. A lot of it is just having a young team and a lot of it is just a lack of practice, and that’s kind of on me.”
The War Eagles have routinely been starting freshmen and sophomores this season and Carrigan hopes that experience will bode well for his ball club down the road.
“I’m going to keep scheduling good teams,” Carrigan added. “Let these guys see what it takes to compete at a high level and I think we’ve done that this season. You like to think that seeing the talent that we’re playing just gives them a little bit of a reality check, saying hey I got to work. You know this isn’t going to come easy. Just having those kids draw on that experience for years to come, hopefully we start to get back on track.”
Hendersonville moves on to face cross-town rival Beech Tuesday night as they prepare for the upcoming district tournament.
After the game, Hendrix gathered his team around to talk about closing out the season strong.
“The message tonight was just stay together,” Hendrix said. “Don’t get down, stay up. This game right here has lots of ups and downs and it’s tournament time. You’re not going to get a hit every time you get up there, but let’s get after it, let’s play hard and go see what happens.”