Defending state champion South picked a good time to start playing some of its best baseball, looking sharp in nearly all phases Thursday at Mulcahy Stadium in a 7-1 win over Colony in the first round of the state high school baseball tournament.
"We're definitely playing really good baseball, probably just as good as last year," said South's Brad Butcher, who notched two hits and scored a run. "We've been practicing the last two days, really trying to get ready."
The Wolverines rapped 10 hits and used aggressive base running to put pressure on a game Colony squad, and winning pitcher Max Karnos struck out four in a complete-game, seven-inning performance that prevented the Knights from mounting a serious scoring threat.
"Max pitched a great game," Butcher said.
South designated hitter Ryan Gray drove in Andrew Martin for the game's first run in the top of the second inning, and the Wolverines capitalized on a Colony error in the top of the third to go up 2-0. Colony minimized damage and kept the deficit at two until the Wolverines managed a three-run outburst in the top of the fifth.
"Infield hits really killed us," Colony pitcher Damon Hammer said. "We never got it going through the whole game. We were kinda flat."
Hammer, who also bats cleanup for the Knights, said the loss was a serious disappointment. Colony has played some of its best baseball of late, winning last week's Southcentral Conference tournament with a victory over rival Wasilla in the title game.
The Knights knew they were in for a tough game against South, but Hammer said he came in optimistic.
"We knew they have good pitchers and we were just looking to take the ball to the other side, but we just didn't get it done," he said. "I felt good coming into it. It's just a tough one."
Though Colony committed a pair of errors and at times had trouble with the Wolverines on the base paths, the Knights also made some nifty plays in the field. Hammer provided one of the game's top highlights on a double play in the top of the first inning when he calmly caught a line drive from South's Logan Allred and threw Butcher out before he could retreat to first base. The Knights ended the top of the second with another double play, and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third.
"I felt good early on, but I was kind of battling from behind a lot," Hammer said.
South's fifth-inning rally began with Bryan Baker getting hit by a Hammer pitch and scoring from first when Butcher drilled a shot to right field. Baker flew around the bases and barely beat a throw from Colony right-fielder Shawn Faulk. Two more Wolverines scored later on an infield hit from first-baseman Josh Crapps to put South up 5-0.
Faulk drove in Colony's only run on a fielder's choice in the bottom of the fifth.
South needs two more wins to claim its second straight state title and will take on Ketchikan in a semifinal Friday. The Wolverines played three exhibition games with Ketchikan before the high school season started, winning two and losing one.
"We've seen them and they've seen us, so we just have to come out and play well." Butcher said. "Hopefully our pitcher shuts them out."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.