High school baseball: East escapes with eighth-inning homer; South also wins in first round
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — Jake Hunter’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night provided a 5-4 victory over Western Guilford at Staton Field as East Rowan took a deep breath and advanced to the second round of the 3A state playoffs.
“We were fortunate,” East head coach Brett Hatley said. “We couldn’t have played much worse, but we got through it. We get to play again on Thursday. That’s what matters.”
Next for East at Staton Field is 11th-seeded Sun Valley, a 7-1 winner over previously undefeated Southwest Guilford in Tuesday’s first round.
Third-seeded East (13-2) was in command early against wild-card Western Guilford (8-8).
Singles by Morgan Padgett, Austin Fulk and Chance Mako and Cobb Hightower’s two-run double staked unbeaten East starting pitcher Cameron Padgett to a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
East made it 4-0 in the third when Griffin Warden singled, Hunter tripled and Fulk doubled.
“You lose and you’re done, so I was going all-out,” Hunter said. “I got to second and they were waving me to third. I was as surprised as anyone. That was my first triple in about nine years.”
Up 4-0, East took the foot off the gas pedal a bit.
“We did get a little lackadaisal,” Hunter said. “We’ve got a stud on the mound and we’ve got a four-run lead. We relaxed.”
But Western Guilford wasn’t going away easily. The Hornets got even with two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth.
“We didn’t play very well behind Cam and they probably don’t score any runs if we make all the plays,” Hatley said. “But give them credit. They scrapped and they took advantage of our mistakes to get back in the ballgame.”
Cameron Padgett (5-0) kept it 4-4 in a tense seventh and top of the eighth.
Padgett, a junior committed to UNC, threw 103 pitches, 77 for strikes. He struck out eight, allowed five hits and didn’t walk a batter. East would have been forced to go the bullpen in the ninth, if the game had continued.
Western Guilford pitcher Nathan Terry reached the pitch-count limit (105) in the bottom of the seventh, and new hurler Brayden Dilday took the mound for the eighth.
Hunter was the first man Dilday faced. Hunter was confident.
“I was seeing it well tonight and had already hit the ball hard twice,” Hunter said. “I worked a 2-and-2 count. That’s when he hung a curveball.”
Hunter sent it over the left-field fence.
“Then it was celebration time,” Hatley said.
Hunter is the probable pitcher for Thursday’s game.
OAKBORO — South Rowan entered the 2A playoffs as a very hot team and knocked out No. 2 seed West Stanly 6-2 for the Raiders’ eighth straight victory.
It was only the second loss of the season for the Colts (14-2).
Seeded 15th, South (13-3) got two key hits early from cleanup hitter Jackson Deal. He delivered a two-run single in the first and a two-run double in the second to stake sophomore lefty Haiden Leffew to a 4-0 lead.
South had a chance to blow it open early, but stranded runners at second and third in the first inning and left the bases loaded in the second.
Leffew shut out the Colts until the fifth when West Stanly broke through for two runs.
“Going into the game, I just knew I had to pitch to contact and not try to get a high (number) of strikeouts and run my pitch count up,” Leffew said. “I was trying to pitch to contact, go deep in the game and allow my defense to work behind me.”
South added two big insurance runs in the sixth on a bases-loaded walk to Drew Watkins and a run-scoring passed ball.
“We emphasized the fact that we wanted to take the lead, get out early and score some runs,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “In a playoff game, the first team to score has an advantage. We wanted to come out hot. We knew we were going to face a pitcher that was going to fill up the strike zone. The big key with us was to get baserunners and take good at-bats. We came up (early) with base runners and got some good two-strike hitting.”
Chandler Oddie relieved Leffew with one out and one in the bottom of the sixth. West Stanly loaded the bases in the sixth, but third baseman Jack Weaver fielded a groundball and threw home for a force play, and Oddie got the final out of the inning on a foul-trip strikeout.
Oddie walked a batter with two outs in the seventh but ended the game with a strikeout.
Leffew (4-1) struck out eight and walked five. He allowed only one hit.
“I thought he did a really good job,” Chrismon said. “He had some moments in there where I thought he tried to be a little too fine and lost the zone a little bit. We really tried to encourage him, ‘You’ve got a pretty good defense behind you. Let’s make them play.’ ”
South had 10 hits, with the top of the lineup — Kane Kepley, Nathan Chrismon, Ty Hubbard and Deal — doing almost all of the damage.
“The team’s got great chemistry,’ Chrismon said. “They trust reach other; they believe in each other and they’re staying within themselves, and that’s a big thing not trying to do much, knowing you have good teammates to pick you up. Stick with what we do, because if they do what we do, we are a good ball club.”
South will face a familiar foe next. The Raiders will travel to Oak Grove Thursday. Oak Grove beat Madison 3-2. Oak Grove won at South in the regular season, but the Raiders rolled at Oak Grove in the Central Carolina Conference Tournament.
HICKORY — Carson scratched out two early runs but couldn’t hold off St. Stephens in a first-round 3A playoff game.
The second-seeded Indians beat the Cougars 3-2 in eight innings.
Seeded 15th, Carson finished 9-5.
Carson took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against St. Stephens starter Julien Peissel. Aaron Bradshaw doubled to start the inning. Cameron Burleyson’s bunt single put runners at first and third. A bunt hit by TJ Jones gave the Cougars the lead, and a wild pitch made it 2-0.
Carson starting pitcher Hayden Simmerson held that lead until the fifth when the Indians were able to tie it. Simmerson threw 102 pitches. He struck out seven and walked two. He allowed five hits.
Carson couldn’t get anything going offensively against relief ace Josh Barkley after he replaced Peissel in the sixth.
St. Stephens opened the eighth against Carson reliever Dylan Driver with an infield hit and had runners on the corners with no outs after a steal and a bunt single. Another bunt got the winning run home.
In other games, Ledford knocked out No. 1 seed North Davidson 7-5 and Cox Mill beat Kings Mountain 9-4 in nine innings.
Charles Curcio contributed to this report.