KATHLEEN -- Preston Sparks has a bit of gambler in him.
When the stakes are highest, like Friday’s GHSA Class AAAA state tournament opener against Cairo, the Veterans pitcher likes his chances.
“I get excited for these kind of games,” Sparks said. “I had a good feeling going in.”
His teammates were the ones feeling good coming out after Sparks tossed a one-hit shutout to get the Warhawks started on a doubleheader sweep. Veterans followed Sparks’ 2-0 win with a 8-1 romp behind the three-hit pitching of Ryan Johnson and five runs batted in from Leyton Pinckney.
The sweep sends the Warhawks (15-10) into Wednesday’s second round at home against either Madison County or Northwest Whitfield.
Sparks, who has signed to play at ABAC, allowed a hit and a walk in the first inning and was spotless the rest of the way.
“I haven’t had a game like that,” said Sparks, who struck out 12 and threw just 84 pitches. “I just tried to stay ahead of the hitters and work to my spots.”
Veterans head coach David Coffey was impressed.
“That’s the best I’ve seen Preston throw,” he said. “It was just an outstanding effort.”
The starter was at the top of a sparkling opener for the Warhawks, who had six players get a hit and played spotless defense.
“We talk about the team concept all year,” Coffey said. “Well, that was the epitome of the team concept right there. We got the pitching, timely hits and great defense. You couldn’t ask for more.”
The Warhawks gave Sparks all the runs he needed in the third inning when Dalton Gilliam delivered a two-out single that scored Jacob Giles, who singled to open the inning and was sacrificed to second.
Gabe Holt added a lead-off home run in fifth inning for some insurance for Sparks, who didn’t need it. After giving up a two-out hit to Cage Cox and a walk to Koby Pyrz in the first, the whip-armed right-hander retired the final 19 hitters he faced, only one of whom was able to get the ball to the outfield.
“I started feeling it about the fifth inning,” Sparks said. “A little stronger, looser. It was really good.”
Johnson was nearly equal to Sparks. He fanned four, walked one and hit a batter in the nightcap. The senior right-hander retired 11 straight at one point in the game. The lone run for the Syrupmakers (17-12) came on a throwing error.
Johnson got all the runs he needed in the first inning when Pinckney had a two-run single with two outs. The freshman keyed a three-run fifth with a two-run triple and added a bases-loaded walk in a three-run sixth.
Logan Arnett, went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI, while Sparks knocked in the other Veterans runs as the designated hitter.