By VAN HOLLAND
ROCKY MOUNT —
ROCKY MOUNT – Second-year Tarboro Vikings head coach Justin Smith knew this season was going to be interesting, because he has a young team. He has three seniors starting who he depends on to be leaders. He is also depending on his pitching and defense to carry them this year. But after the first two games, the defense has been a total let down. They have committed nine errors in two games, which has led to eight runs.
They committed five errors Thursday, four in the first inning, against the Rocky Mount Gryphons, which led to five runs. Rocky Mount shutout the Vikings 8-0 in non-conference action. Tarboro falls to 0-2.
Tarboro's offense has been a problem as well. They haven't gave Smith the spark he had hoped they would. They have only collected five hits in two games and have scored just three runs. They have gotten runners on base through walks and errors and have left 17 runners on base in those two games.
Thursday was just a continuation of Friday's extra inning loss against Rocky Mount, where the Gryphon pitchers shut down the Vikings offense. Tarboro managed only one hit Thursday, which came off of the bat of Will Dupree in the first inning. They struck out 13 times, but left 10 runners on base and seven of them were in scoring position.
"Our offensive approach hasn't been very good," Smith said. "It's something we have talked about and something we have worked on. It's just not clicking yet."
Smith said the Vikings have a young team this year and he expects the offense to come in due time and with the way things have gone the first two games, he is going to start shuffling some things and players around and find someone who can get the job done.
"Right now it just isn't happening for us offensively," Smith said. "We are going to find the pieces that are missing to the puzzle and put them in place."
Smith is more unhappy, because his players are standing there watching third strikes instead of swinging the bat. They struck out seven times looking.
"The main problem is we aren't being aggressive enough at the plate," Smith said. "We are just looking for the perfect pitch to hit and if that pitch isn't there we aren't swinging the bat. We just aren't doing a very good job at the plate – it is simple... we have to put the bat on the ball to make things happen."
The game started just like it ended Friday with Tarboro not being able to make the plays on defense. They committed four errors in the first inning, which led to four runs.
Smith started senior Travis Martin on the mound. He was effective in hitting his locations early on, but Rocky Mount was able to use the Vikings mistakes against them and make things happen early on. The Gryphons collected just two hits in the first, but sent eight batters to the plate. The Vikings four errors came early and often. There was an error at shortstop, two in centerfield and one at second. Tarboro gave the Gryphons six outs in the inning.
"We can't give teams extra chances like we did today," Smith said. "Our defense has to step it up and make the simple plays."
Smith doesn't think his team came ready to play, because they haven't had much field time to practice due to the weather, but he said that wasn't an excuse. Smith tries to make sure his team plays with a lot of intensity, but he said he didn't think it was there early on.
After the first inning blunders, the Vikings settled down, but Martin started to get wild and walked the bases loaded after the Gryphons had scored another run in the second. Senior Trey Radford relieved Martin in the second with two outs and hit the first batter he faced, which forced in the second run of the inning. Radford got out of the inning when he struck out the next Gryphon batter.
In the bottom of the third, the Vikings made another error at second base and two batters later, the Gryphons took advantage and scored on a base hit. They added another run in the fourth to end the scoring.
Martin threw 1 2/3 innings giving up six runs on just two hits, walked four and struck out one. Radford lasted 2 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on three hits, walked one and struck two out. Sophomore Jordyn Holland finished the game out. He threw the last two innings giving up two hits, one walk and struck out two.
"Our pitchers did a really good job today, but our defense just didn't back them," Smith said. "The walks are something we need to cut down on, but the guys performances weren't that bad. They did a good job and made good pitches."
Smith hopes the early season let downs are something his Vikings will overcome and make progress quicker then he expected.
"If we work and make the proper changes we need to then we will be fine," Smith said. "We just have to stop breaking down and become mentally ready every pitch. We are harping on what we did wrong on the play before and that just makes it worse."
Tarboro travels to North Pitt Tuesday to open up Eastern Plains Conference action at 7 p.m.