NORCROSS - Conor Welton proved to be the ultimate lead-off hitter Friday night, leading Wesleyan to a two-game sweep of Hebron Christian in the Class A playoffs. And he did so with symmetry and panache.
First game, first pitch - home run.
Second game, second pitch - home run.
The junior rightfielder sparked Wesleyan's offense with leadoff homers in both games as the Wolves won big, 8-2 and 9-1, before an appreciative home crowd at Donn Gaebelein Field.
"We came out like gangbusters," Wesleyan coach Mike Shaheen said. "But Hebron didn't give up and they fought hard to their credit. After that first inning, their pitcher kept his poise and kept us off balance."
After Welton started the first game off with his shot over the left-center field fence, Wesleyan shortstop Lee Ellis got on base and was suddenly brought home by a second home run from the bat of catcher Brent Pugh.
An obviously startled Hebron pitcher Kevin Burgee showed poise in getting the next three Wolves batters out, two with strikeouts.
Hebron then showed determination by scoring two in the top of the second off Wesleyan starter Devin Stanton. Lions' rightfielder Jesse Myrick got on with a walk, was moved up by a single from designated hitter Tyler Bethune and later scored on a wild pitch.
Hebron's second run came when leftfielder Lance Dutton plated Bethune with a single.
The two-run second inning was the only scoring Stanton allowed and turned out to be the highlight of the evening for the Lions.
"We came in hoping to beat a very good team, but just didn't get the hits we needed and they did," Hebron coach Heath Kennedy said. "We played hard and hit the ball hard, but they were very tough."
After a couple of scoreless innings, Wesleyan scored two in both the fourth and fifth, and got a final run in the sixth. Wolves centerfielder Daniel Cardwell hit a solo homer in the fourth and Pugh smashed his second home run of the first game in the sixth.
"The ball was flying out of here," Shaheen smiled. "It's a small park but you still have to hit it."
And Welton proved his coach a prophet as he banged that second pitch of the second game out over the center field fence. Though it was the last home run of the night, Wesleyan cruised to its second game win behind three-hit pitching from starter Drew Fithian and relievers J.J. Russell and Micah Mabe.
The Wolves cranked out two runs in the first and then three in both the third and the fifth inning before adding a final run in the top of the sixth.
Hebron scored its only run the bottom of the second when it got two runners on board with walks and Ben Mason scored on a hard-hit ground ball by Myrick.
The Wesleyan offense was sparked in the second game by singles from shortstop Kevin O'Leary, Russell, Welton and Ellis and a double from Stanton. Cardwell also had a two-bagger in the first game.
Both teams showed good defense at times with Hebron turning one double play in the first game and Wesleyan two in the second.
Hebron finishes the year with a 19-6 record, while the two wins improve Wesleyan to 19-8.
More importantly, last year's AA state champions keep their Class A state title hopes alive and travel to Holy Innocents' next Wednesday for a doubleheader in round two of the playoffs.