Prep Baseball: Carson beats South for three-game lead in NPC
CHINA GROVE — One big swing by Ben Gragg meant one big swing in the standings for Carson.
Carson see-sawed past second-place South Rowan 7-6 on Tuesday’s Senior Night, and suddenly the Cougars hold a three-game lead on the rest of the NPC pack.
Gragg’s clutch, two-run double in the sixth turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead and put Carson ahed to stay.
“Bottom line, that was just a great ballgame,” drained but smiling Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “Both teams fought so hard for that one. Even if we’d lost, I couldn’t have been mad at my kids.”
Cauble’s team has clinched a share of its first regular-season title. The Cougars (18-3, 8-1) have road games left at West Rowan, West Iredell and North Iredell, but they only have to get one of those three to win the league outright.
“This game stretched things out for us a lot,” Gragg said. “But we still have to keep a level head and we have to keep working.”
Gragg drove in three runs for Carson, while leadoff man K.J. Pressley scored three times without getting a hit.
Blake Sechler drove in two for the Raiders (13-6, 6-4).
Carson managed to hand South ace Dillon Parker (6-1) his first setback.
Carson got five innings out of Colton Laws, who wasn’t at his best but kept the Cougars in the game.
Dillon Atwell (7-1), who received the Patrick Snider Memorial Award as Rowan County Pitcher of the Year for the 2012 season prior to the game, pitched out of bases-loaded jam in the sixth and was credited with the win when the Cougars erupted for four runs in the bottom of the inning.
John Daugherty took over in the seventh and had the task of preserving a 7-4 lead. He did it — barely. South scored twice before he could nail down the save, and Tyler Fuller was at third base when Dylan Goodman lined out to Pressley in center to finally end the game.
“John was aiming the ball tonight, and that’s not like him,” Cauble said. “But he persevered. He got the last out. That’s what mattered.”
Pressley scored two unearned runs early, but South cut the gap to 2-1 on Sechler’s RBI single in the fourth. South had the bases loaded with none out, but Laws struck out three straight.
“We had a lot of good at-bats tonight, put a lot of balls in play down in the count,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “We fought hard. We just came up a little bit short. We were inches away.”
Connor Bridges led off the fourth with a solo homer to put Carson up 3-1, but South put on a bunting clinic in the fifth and scored three times.
Eric Tyler singled home a run, and bunts by Sechler and Eric Stowe scored the runs that pushed South ahead 4-3.
“When a team executes as well as South executed on those bunts, there’s just not a lot you can do,” Cauble said.
Cauble and Dwayne Fink had wrestled with the Senior Night lineup card over lunch. Carson has more than nine good players, so it’s never an easy card to make out.
“We’ve had all-conference players from last year sitting down at different times,” Cauble said. “But one thing Dwayne and I agreed on was Gragg had to in the lineup.”
With Carson down 4-3 in the sixth, hits by Bridges and Austin McNeill led to the critical, two-out, two-on at-bat by Gragg. He sent a double sizzling toward right-center.
“It was an opportunity, and I just had to look for the right pitch,” Gragg said. “It was outside, and I went with it.”
Carson led 5-4, and Daugherty followed behind Gragg with a solid, two-run single for 7-4. That mattered a great deal when a double by Fuller, plus an error, lifted South within 7-6 in the seventh.
“That was a tough one to drop,” Tyler said. “Can’t fault anything we did. I think they won it more than we lost it.”