E.A. Sports Today

Mr. Versatility

Kirk gives Piedmont plenty of options; catches and closes in latest area victory over Pleasant Valley

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — If Piedmont coach James Blanchard ever wanted to play one of his guys at every position in a game just for the fun of it Easton Kirk would be his man.

Blanchard calls his junior catcher – at least that’s where Kirk played Tuesday — “Mr. Versatility,” this year’s version of what Bayley Blanchard was for the Bulldogs last season.

Kirk has played every position in the field this season except left field, center field and first base, and considering who the Bulldogs have in those spots it’s unlikely he’ll find himself there.

On Tuesday, he started behind the plate and then shed the gear to pitch the seventh inning in a 9-5 win over Pleasant Valley that gave the Bulldogs the upper hand in Class 3A Area 12.

“He’s the ironman,” James Blanchard said.

On the team’s trip to Gulf Shores last week Kirk played third base, second base and right field in the same game. He also caught and pitched on the trip.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I like playing different positions, you get a different feel for the game. I grew up playing everywhere. My dad always told me if you want to play early in high school you need to learn how to play the outfield, so I learned how to play the outfield at an early age.

“I always played shortstop (and) second for Coach B (Blanchard) growing up, so he knew I could do that. Ninth-grade year, coach (Matt) Deerman told me he wanted me to catch so he started working with me a lot more on that and he got me a lot better. I’m not as fast as most people, so I’ve got to play a position where slow people can play.”

There have been doubleheaders when Kirk has gone from pitcher to catcher, but Tuesday was the first time this season he has gone from catcher to pitcher in the same game.

Indications are there will be more of that. The right-hander is expected to start the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader when the series concludes in Piedmont.

“I don’t believe if you catch that you can’t pitch an inning; that stretches your legs out,” Blanchard said. “You ask any catcher, they want to pitch. He throws a lot of strikes, that’s why we want him to get more innings Thursday.”

Kirk came in to slam the door on the Raiders behind starter Taylor Hayes. It’s a position he likes being in, but it wasn’t without drama on this day.

The Raiders loaded the bases in the seventh on an infield error, Caden McCurdy’s single and a walk. Kirk almost got out of it, striking out the next two. He was hoping to strike out the side, but hit Caden Turner to force in a run before getting the final out on a fly to center.

“We’re scratching out wins right now,” James Blanchard said. “We’re still making some mistakes we shouldn’t be making. We’ve got to put a complete game together. The thing is we play great at times and then we have lapses.”

The lapse Tuesday came in the bottom of the third when they gave up four runs after scoring four in the top in the inning to take a 6-0 lead. Tristan Salster’s RBI single was PV’s only hit in the inning. Two runs scored on an infield error and another scored on an outfield force to second.

Hayes bounced back from it and didn’t give up a hit over the next three innings before giving way to Kirk in the seventh.

The game was a showdown between teams that won the two counting games in the area-opening series. PV coach Darren Hamby didn’t consider the loss a “major setback,” but rather an “obstacle” to the goal of finishing in the top two in the area.

“We control our own destiny still,” Hamby said, “and that needs to be our focus.”

Bayley Blanchard, Hayes and Kirk all had two hits for the Bulldogs. Peyton Young had two sacrifice flies and three RBIs.

McCurdy, the expected started in Thursday’s first game, had two hits for the Raiders. Brody Phillips pitched two strong innings of relief, giving up one run on one hit and Hamby hinted the eighth-grader might remain with the varsity for the rest of the year.

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