But by the end of the second game Wednesday, the Raiders were forced to share that spot with two other teams.
Etowah beat Walton 5-1 to complete the home-and-home sweep, and the teams are now tied with Roswell atop the region standings, with Milton a half-game behind.
Walton coach Shane Amos admitted it has gotten more crowded at the top, but said that speaks to the strength of the region.
“People need to realize that you need to come out focused and ready to play every day,” he said. “That is the way it is. We (and Etowah) are two of the better teams in the region and they just got the best of us the last two days. We need to regroup and get ready to go back out there on Friday.”
Etowah (16-3, 6-2) used solid pitching, timely hitting and capitalized on a pair of errors to get the win.
Etowah had not beaten Walton at all in the past two seasons.
Taylor Lobus went the distance for the Eagles, not giving up a run until the final frame. He struck out six, walked one and allowed six hits.
At the plate, Etowah benefited from a solid performance from the top half of its lineup. Leadoff hitter H.D. Dillard was 3-for-4 with a run scored, Jake Swan went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs, Will Campbell was 2-for-2 with a walk and while J.T. Thomas was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Etowah coach Greg Robinson said it was nice to see that kind of production from the top of the order, a day after the bottom of the order came through with a big night.
“(Tuesday) night, the No. 7 and No. 8 guys came through and (Wednesday), it was somebody else,” Robinson said. “That is when you know they are playing. Everyone starts contributing. You are getting good hitting, good pitching and good defense. (Tuesday), the bottom of the order picked it up. (Wednesday), the top of the order picked it up. That is good. That is when I am real pleased.”
Robinson said the key was not making mistakes against Walton (14-5, 5-2).
“We played good defense,” he said. “We just made all the plays. We got the lead, which is so important playing the first-place team in the region. It brings confidence. We just couldn’t be more pleased with the pitching.”
While Lobus recorded only six strikeouts, Amos recognized the Etowah pitcher’s command of the strike zone.
“They did a good job,” Amos said. “(Lobus) came out and controlled the strike zone and kept us off-balance. We didn’t swing the bat very well (Wednesday), and the results are 5-1.”
Amos said the problem wasn’t just at the plate. The Raiders’ pitchers didn’t hit the spots when they needed to, and they were charged with a pair of errors.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “You have to hit the baseball with runners in scoring position, and we didn’t get that done (Wednesday).”
Walton starter Chase Burks lasted four innings. He gave up five runs — two earned — on eight hits and a walk. He also struck out three.
Harrison Veldsma and Pierce Smith combined for three scoreless innings of relief.
Etowah got in front early.
Swan, the second batter of the game, was hit by a pitch. After moving to second on a single by Campbell, Swan scored on a double by Thomas to make it 1-0 after the top of the first.
Etowah tacked on two more in the second.
Bryce O’Brien reached on a one-out single to short and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Dillard reached on a bunt single, which also moved O’Brien to third. O’Brien then scored when Walton threw the ball away trying to make a play, and Dillard then scored from second on a Swan single.
Neither team scored until Etowah once again added a pair in the top of the fourth.
Jake Ferentinos drew a one-out walk before Dillard singled. A passed ball moved Ferentinos and Dillard up a base before Swan connected for a single to center that allowed Ferentinos to score, though Dillard was caught trying to advance to third on the play. Swan scored the final run for Etowah when Campbell singled to left.
Walton scored its only run in its final set of at-bats.
After Luke Manzo hit a one-out double to center, he advanced to third on a groundout by Chris Hummel and scored when Logan Barnette singled.
Manzo was the only Raider with multiple hits. He finished 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Walton will play a game with Milton on Friday before opening a series with Wheeler next week.
Etowah’s next game will be a non-region contest with North Cobb today, before it then begins a series with Lassiter on Monday.