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Prep baseball: Carson wins NPC game

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
CHINA GROVE ó Decisions, decisions.
Baseball history is full of them ó good and bad.
The St. Louis Browns’ decision not to give a 17-year-old named Mantle a tryout was a bad one. George Staller, manager of the minor league York White Roses, decided to move teenager Brooks Robinson from second base to third base. That was a good one.
Faced with a three-game week and trying to secure one of his league’s six state playoff berths, Carson coach Chris Cauble had to make tough decisions on a frigid Monday.
He made good ones in a 4-2 NPC victory over West Iredell.
Cauble decided to juggle his batting order, but his biggest decision was his starting pitcher. He went with his horse ó junior Randy Shepherd.
“I did it because we had to win this game; it was a must-win,” Cauble said. “We’d like to have swung the bats and gotten Randy out of there after three, but that didn’t work out. It is possible he’ll come back Friday. We’ll have to see how he feels.”
Carson (8-8, 6-5) is in fifth place heading into tonight’s home game with sixth-place Lake Norman (7-9, 5-6), which will likely have its own horse ó lefty Nick Lomascolo ó on the hill. Zack Wright or Cam Park will pitch for the Cougars.
Shepherd needed just 83 pitches to handle the Warriors. The right-hander struck out only three, but he got 13 outs on groundballs and only one West Iredell hit left the infield.
“Shepherd was inducing a lot of groundballs, but we put the ball in play, and most of the time in a high school game kids will make some errors,” West Iredell coach Buck Gatton said. “Chris said his guys have been making some errors, but tonight it didn’t look like it.”
Wright ran down a couple of balls in right field. Freshman shortstop Gunnar Hogan made a diving catch. Park dug several throws at first base, including the last out of the game, and Jeremy Mullis was phenomenal at third base.
“Shepherd had a very good effort on the mound, and defensively we made a lot of plays that weren’t routine,” Cauble said. “Mullis made three or four that were ESPN-type web gems.”
Early, it didn’t appear Carson would need any gems. It scored three runs in the second on hits by Mullis, Wright, Nicholas Glass and Zack Grkman.
Then Scott Ashby homered leading off the third for a 4-0 lead. But freshman hurler Sam Laws settled in, and the Cougars’ bats quieted to a whisper.
“We hit the ball hard early, but then we stopped, and I really don’t know what happened,” Shepherd said. “I felt great throwing the ball, but when I left that one pitch up in the fifth, it got to be a tight ballgame.”
West Iredell got both its runs in the fifth when leadoff hitter Chase LeVan followed an infield hit and a hit batsman with a solid, two-out double on the one mistake Shepherd made.
Shepherd walked the next hitter, and Michael Krueger’s swinging bunt up the third-base line should have filled the bases. It didn’t because Mullis made the best play of his life ó a charging, barehand pickup and off-balance throw that Park scooped for a huge out.
“We haven’t played very good defense behind Randy this year, but tonight we did,” Mullis said. “That play is one we practice all the time, and I just felt like it was one that needed to be made. It almost got away from me, but Cam scooped it, and we helped Randy out.”
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NOTES: Infielder Julio Zubillaga (wrist) will be limited to baserunning this season. … Besides a likely start against South Rowan on Friday, Shepherd (5-2) will be in State Games tryouts on Saturday and tryouts for a showcase team on Sunday. … It was Ashby’s fourth homer, one short of the school mark. … The crowd was small on a cold night, but the Cougars got front-row support from basketball players Nard Adams and Josh Doby and softball players Jesse Clark and Stephanie Sprinkle.

Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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