The Tarboro Vikings didn't get off to the start second-year head coach Justin Smith had anticipated, because he was hoping his defense and pitching was going to carry them a long way this year. Smith got an up close and personal view of that Friday night at Municipal Stadium when the Vikings hosted the Rocky Mount Gryphons in their season opener. The Vikings lost 6-3 in nine innings after blowing a two run lead in the top of the seventh.
With the Vikings leading 3-1 going into the top of the seventh, pitching backfired and gave up two walks, which led to two runs to force extra innings. Pitching again made mistakes in the ninth, which allowed the Gryphons to score three runs and take the win. The Vikings defense committed four errors in the game, which led to a run and the Vikings only managed to collect four hits the entire game.
"I am not sure if this was first game jitters or what," Smith said. "We have practiced well, but until you get into a game situation you aren't sure how your team will respond. We have to get a couple of games under our belts before we can start making moves and head in the right direction."
Smith started senior right-hander Will Dupree on the mound. Smith wasn't sure what type of performance he was going to get from Dupree, but knew he could count on him to give him some strong innings.
Dupree was playing with a very heavy heart, because he had just lost his grandmother Tuesday and just several hours before the game, he had attended her funeral. He made the most of his performance though and gave his teammates and Smith six strong innings of work. Dupree allowed only one run off of seven hits in his outing and had his team in position to win.
"I tried to put everything behind me and tried to get the job done for my team," Dupree said. "She would have wanted me to come out and play my hardest today and that’s what I did."
Dupree said it was frustrating to lose the game, but he was pleased with the way his teammates picked him up and played together.
"We had a few let downs, but that is what the game is played for," Dupree said. "We just have to come back out here ready to get better at practice this week and work harder on certain things."
Smith was pleased with Dupree's performance considering what he had just been through emotionally. Smith said he was tired from what he had gone through the past couple of days.
"For Will to come out here and give us a strong performance like that is just amazing," Smith said. "He didn't have his best stuff, but he gutted it out and had us in position to win. It was just a fantastic outing from him and I am proud of what he did for us."
Tarboro's defense had played up to Smith's expectations, but had a couple of melt down periods. The major melt down they had was in the ninth when they were unable to make the plays on consecutive bunts, which allowed the Gryphons to get in position to win.
Smith said the meltdown happened, because of the lack of communication by his infielders.
"We were in a position to win, but we didn't make the plays at the right times," Smith said. "We have worked on fielding the bunts and have made sure everyone knew where they were suppose to be during different types of situations. We just had a meltdown."
Tarboro collected only four hits in the game and struck out 15 times. Junior first baseman Joe Miller had three hits and two RBI. Sophomore catcher Jordyn Holland had the fourth hit.
Tarboro collapsed in the ninth inning. Trey Radford had come in in the seventh inning to relieve Dupree on the mound. He had already given up two runs in the seventh and the ninth didn't start any better. He gave up a lead off walk and then allowed two Gryphon hitters to reach base on bunts. Then he walked two straight, which forced in two runs. Travis Martin relieved Radford. The first batter Martin faced hit into a double play, but the Gryphons scored their third run of the inning and took the 6-3 lead.
"Our pitching wasn't the main reason we lost the game, because we were in a zone defensively until the ninth and we broke down," Smith said. "We have worked on fielding the bunts and we know where we are suppose to be. It is just a lack of communication."
Smith said his team played up to his expectations, but sees some things they need to work on. He said he is mixing up things to see who will fit in what positions best and when they get settled in they will be able to compete.
Tarboro had a chance to win in the seventh, but they stranded a man on third base and Smith said that is something that they are going to have to do this season, which is execute late in games if they want to be successful.
"We have to execute when we have the chances," Smith said. "We tried to do some different things at different times and they didn't work in our favor. We are going to keep working on moving runners over and getting them in scoring position."
Tarboro travels to Wilson to play Hunt Wednesday at 5 p.m.