NPC Baseball Championship:
By Mike London
LANDIS — Carson’s 12-inning struggle against West Iredell for the 2012 NPC tournament title set the bar high, but tourney championship No. 2 for the Cougars was nearly as memorable.
Dylan Carpenter’s two-out, full-count single to center in the seventh scored a streaking K.J. Pressley from second base and gave Carson a 3-2 walkoff victory over rival South Rowan on Friday night.
“Thank God it was K.J. on base — I knew they didn’t have any chance to throw him out,” Carpenter said. “I was just trying to hit it somewhere. I got a fastball down the middle, and, well, it just feels great.”
For Carpenter, a dynamic left fielder who doesn’t say much, that 39-word statement was his version of the Gettysburg Address. But it was a special night in many respects.
“Both teams played their hearts out, and that was exactly what a championship game is supposed to be,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “This game was playoff-like.”
Carson’s win meant the tournament didn’t alter the league’s seeds for the playoffs an inch. It’s still 1. Carson, 2. East Rowan, 3. South, 4. West Rowan. South (18-8) would’ve leap-frogged East if the Raiders had won the tournament.
Still, the three-day event probably helped South as much as it did anyone.
“People questioned whether we had the pitching to do anything in this tournament,” South coach Thad Chrismon said. “But our guys gave us three straight quality starts.”
How did South, which lost 12-0 at home to Carson in the regular season, battle to the final out with a 23-3 team?
The biggest reasons were pitcher Aaron Bare, catcher Eric Tyler and center fielder Dylan Goodman. Goodman went 3-for-3 and made a diving catch. Tyler wiped out three Carson baserunners. Bare was amazing. Tyler bailed him out early when South’s defense was struggling, and then Bare (2-4) settled in and was stellar. He was still competing on the game’s last pitch.
“Bare found his confidence,” Tyler explained. “And he found his curveball.”
Bare confounded Carson’s non-stop lineup. A lot of guys with .400 averages whacked groundballs to shortstop Eric Goldston or popped up meekly.
“Bare pitched the best I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Cauble said. “He had us off-balance.”
Carson’s pitching situation was equally interesting. Colton Laws left the game after a handful of pitches.
“Colton said his arm just didn’t feel right and we weren’t taking any chances,” Cauble said. “And we’re fortunate to have John Daugherty. That’s a pretty good No. 3 pitcher.”
Daugherty (8-0) replaced Laws and was still out there at the end.
“It was very short notice for John, but he’s done his job all year and he was unbelievable again,” Carson catcher Bryson Prugh said. “He hit spot after spot. Just a great pitcher.”
Ben Gragg knocked in Pressley in the first inning as Carson jumped on top. John Patella’s two-out RBI single made it 2-0 in the second.
Goodman singled in Eric Stowe in the third. That hit not only cut South’s deficit to 2-1, it seemed to energize Bare.
In the South sixth, Goodman led off with a single and Tyler’s double to right-center moved him to third. Jake Sechler came through with the sac fly that made it 2-2.
In the Carson seventh, Pressley walked with two out, and that was the guy the Cougars wanted to get on base.
“He’s always got the green light,” Cauble said. “But it was a good thing he didn’t run on the first pitch. Bare slide-stepped and threw a fastball, and Tyler probably would’ve thrown him out.”
Pressley instead picked a perfect pitch to run on — a bouncing curveball. That put him in scoring position, and Carpenter’s base hit made Daugherty a winner.
“I wasn’t expecting to be pitching so early tonight, but I just did the best I could,” Daugherty said. “I didn’t walk many (just one) and I tried to make them hit the ball. It was very intense out there, and it was a great game to win. This should help us in the playoffs.”