When George Washington built the 24-foot Robert Wong Wall last year atop the notoriously short left-field fence at its home park, many thought home runs would be harder to come by for the Patriots.
Well, guess again.
Austin Griffith ripped a pair of two-run shots and nearly had a third Wednesday night, driving in five runs as the Patriots topped Charleston Catholic 9-4 in a battle of state-ranked teams at Floyd B. Wilcox Field.
GW (5-2) came into the game tied for third in the Class AAA state poll, while the Irish (3-2) are ranked fourth in Class A.
Griffith launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning, added a two-run blast in the fourth and stroked an RBI double about halfway up the wall in the sixth, capping a 3 for 4 night that also included a pitching victory with three innings of relief work.
On the season, the senior outfielder now has four homers, including a grand slam at Nitro.
“I’m just trying to hit line drives,’’ Griffith said. “I’m not trying to him home runs. [But] I’ll take them.’’
GW coach Chad Campbell said Griffith’s first homer, which cleared the tall fence with ease and smacked off the brick school building behind it, probably traveled 310-315 feet.
“It’s changed the scope of how things are played up here,’’ Campbell said of the Wong Wall. “It takes some away. But when you hit it like Austin Griffith’s been hitting it, it’s not very difficult.
“He’s the epitome of what a baseball player is supposed to be. He’s a leader, he’s quiet, he’s been here four years. I’m happy and proud he’s having the season he’s having so far. I wish I had nine of those guys who played the game like that.’’
After Catholic went up 2-0 in the top of the first, Griffith tied it with his first homer and Grant Wooten later added a two-run single to give GW the lead for good at 4-2 after one inning.
John Thomas (2 for 2, two walks) scored four times for the Patriots, who ripped 11 hits in all. Griffith crossed the plate thrice.
However, like Catholic, GW had some power outages in the bottom of its order. Hitters four through nine for GW went 4 for 20 (even though Jeff Wong was 2 for 2), while Catholic was 1 of 18 after its top three batters.
“We’ve got a good team this year,’’ Griffith said, “but it seems like the middle part of the lineup is in a slump right now. But I’m glad we’re not peaking right now. We want to peak at the end of the year.’’
The Patriots had a bit of trouble closing out the Irish in the seventh. Leading 9-3, reliever Garrett Vogelbach walked the bases loaded and allowed an RBI single to Sam McKown, but settled down and retired the next three in order, two by strikeout.
Catholic coach Bill Mehle saw some positives from his squad after starter Dominic Marsico yielded a four-spot to GW in the home half of the first.
“Dominic threw very well,’’ Mehle said. “He settled down and started to get his off-speed pitches working in the second, third and fourth innings. In order to keep hitters like this off-balance, you have to throw off-speed pitches for strikes in any count. He had a lot more favorable pitcher counts after that first inning.
“That was the only big inning we gave up, and that’s something we’ve been working on — how you stay in the game by limiting the big innings, especially against a good-hitting club like this. We got some of their hitters in dead-red fastball counts and they were sitting on it, real smooth swings. They hit two off the building and one off the wall.’’
Connor Golden doubled for Catholic and McKown had two RBIs.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.