CALHOUN, Ga.-Austin Norrell knew this was going to be a different type of season for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets baseball team, and though the junior pitcher wouldn't mind a few more runs, he's loving every minute of it.
Norrell improved to 2-0 with a four-hit shutout in Calhoun's 2-0 win over visiting Dade County on a blustery Thursday evening. The Jackets, now 7-2 overall and 2-0 in Region 7-AA B, replaced eight of nine starters in the field as well as ace pitcher Carter Harrison from last season's state champions.
"Last year we had a lot more hitting, but most of those guys are gone," said right-hander Norrell, the team's No. 2 starter last year. "We've still got good hitters, but we're not hitting well right now. Once we get it together, we're going to go off with a big bang."
This year's edition was told early and often that good pitching, defense and baserunning would be essential for success in what would be a major rebuilding season for most programs. After losing two consecutive games two weeks ago, the players seem to be taking that advice to heart now.
"We're still trying to work out a few things here and there," Calhoun coach Chip Henderson said. "This is a different team with different types of players than we've had in the past. I told the guys the days of the 15-0 win are gone, and as soon as they can grasp that and learn to play their game, the better off we'll be."
Norrell and Dade starter Chris Little matched zeros for three innings, though Norrell had to overcome three walks - using two key plays of his own - in stranding four early runners. Following a leadoff hit by Brandon Smith in the second, Norrell turned a nice 1-6-3 double play off Cole Gossett's sharp grounder. In the next inning, with a runner on third and two out, he snared Rhett Lusk's hard-hit grounder to end the inning.
That good work paid off in the fourth when the Jackets finally broke through against Little on freshman catcher Weston McArthur's two-out, two-run single to left field.
Norrell took care of the rest, though he had one more testy inning. With two on and two out in the sixth, Dade's Michael Bearden roped a ball up the middle, but diving Calhoun shortstop Cory Greeson snared it to end the threat. Norrell worked through an error in the seventh, striking out the side, to finish the game.
"Dade is much improved from last year," Henderson said of the Wolverines (7-4, 0-2). "They're scrappy, especially with that pitcher. He gave us problems early, and fortunately for us we got a couple of runners on and Weston McArthur came through with a big hit. That was pretty much the difference in the game. Thank goodness for Austin. He was able to maintain that lead and secure a region win for us."
King had two of Calhoun's seven hits, while Smith had two of Dade's four.