Prep Baseball: Asheboro stuns Carson
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Asheboro sophomore Brady Wright pitched with a cap full of Bible verses and a glove full of strikes, and the Blue Comets stunned Carson 4-2 in the second round of the 3A state baseball playoffs.
Only three squads in Rowan County history (East in 1995 and 2008 and West in 2004) piled up more victories than the Cougars (24-4) had this season, but on Tuesday, at least, unheralded Asheboro (16-7) was the better team.
“It’s a three-part game — pitching, defense and hitting,” Wright said. “If you have two out of three, you should win. We had three out of three.”
Junior John Daugherty (8-1) lost for the first time, and Carson tasted defeat for the first time since April 8.
“I told the guys we’d be playing the best team we’d played all year,” Asheboro coach Tim Murray said. “I told them we’d have to make adjustments, not just at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch, and they did that. We put balls in play and made them field it and our pitchers threw strikes. We’re definitely not flashy, but we we did what we had to do to win.”
A tendon in the back of his leg was bothering Wright in the fifth, but that was his strongest inning. Junior Chase Kucinski earned a save. He held Carson to two hits the last two innings and ended the Cougars’ historic season by striking out dangerous Ben Gragg, the tying run, with a curve.
Carson coach Chris Cauble handled the loss calmly, but the hurt was evident. He said this was the closest 22-man squad he’s ever directed.
“We had it all set up for a long run (Carson could’ve played the next two at home),” Cauble said. “I’d take my chances against Asheboro two out of three, but the system we have is one-and-done. Asheboro scrapped on every at-bat, they didn’t walk anyone all night, and they won.”
Asheboro scored a confidence-boosting run in the first, but Carson answered with two in the bottom half. Daugherty doubled to score Gragg. Bryson Prugh’s whistling single to left plated Daugherty.
But the visitors accepted a gift-wrapped run in the second for a 2-all tie, and No. 8 hitter Grant Cole shocked everyone when he pulled a go-ahead, solo homer to left in the fourth.
“Just a mistake,” Daugherty said. “That pitch was supposed to be away, but it tailed back right down the middle.”
Wright declared it the first homer of Cole’s life, and Cole, also a fine pitcher, didn’t argue.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “It was the best time in the world for that first home run to happen.”
Murray watched the longball sail with amazement.
“Cole hit it to the right part of the park when the sun was still out and the breeze helped it carry,” he said.
That homer put some pressure on the Cougars, and when they messed up on a double-play ball in the fifth that would’ve ended the inning, Asheboro’s lead inched to 4-2.
“Our defense has been money, but we made three errors tonight,” Cauble said. “John didn’t have his best stuff, but he was good enough for us to win and we had enough hits to win. We just didn’t win.”
The Cougars finished with 11 hits, but they stranded two in the second and third innings and had a baserunning mistake to end the sixth. Wright made quality pitches to Dylan Carpenter and Greg Tonnesen for huge, inning-ending outs.
“My focus was getting that first guy out every inning — that stops rallies,” Wright said.
Carson players were stunned — understandably.
Dealing with injuries, Asheboro had just 13 players, but it managed to beat 22 good ones.
“We’ve pulled out a lot of games, but this time we just couldn’t do it,” Prugh said. “But give Asheboro a lot of credit. That’s a good team.”