Prep Baseball: Salisbury 3, Ledford 2
By Bret Strelow
Salisbury pitcher Alex Britt bounced off the mound and bear-hugged second baseman Ben Ijames, who was hoisted into the air as his teammates sprinted to the home dugout.That scene unfolded in the fifth inning, when Ijames triggered a memorable double play that made the next celebration possible.The Hornets faced league rival Ledford in a first-place showdown and won 3-2 on Tuesday night to clinch at least a share of the program’s first regular-season title since 1984.
Britt ripped his glove off and hurled it as soon as Forrest Buchanan squeezed third baseman Dustin Dupre’s throw to first for the final out.
“We were worried because they were so jacked up at school, ready to play, that they were going to burn themselves out before they got here,” coach Scott Maddox said. “They responded, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Salisbury, which can secure an outright CCC title with a win against sixth-place North Rowan on Friday, erased Ledford’s 2-0 lead with a three-run fourth inning.
The Hornets (16-5, 9-2) recently made their first appearance in Impact Baseball’s state 2A poll, and they improved their senior-night record under Maddox to 1-7.”I told them it was a week of firsts,” he said.
Ledford catcher Patrick Koontz opened the scoring by clubbing a two-run home run in the third inning, and Salisbury’s Robbie Ijames drew his second of three walks off Ricky Vaughn to start the fourth-inning rally.
He went to third on a double by David Ijames and scored on Britt’s sacrifice fly. Ben Ijames singled to put runners at the corners, and a solid smash off Doug Seaman’s bat skidded under shortstop Cory Alcon’s glove.
Two runs scored, and Ledford (15-5, 8-3) threatened to tie the game in the top half of the fifth inning. Koontz led off the frame with a lost-in-the-lights triple to center field, prompting Maddox to make a mound visit.
“I told Alex to focus on getting the next three outs, that we’re going to concede the run,” Maddox said. “The chances of getting out of that without them scoring were pretty slim.”
Ledford’s Justin Livengood came up next and hit a pop-up into foul territory behind first base. Ben Ijames darted to his left as Buchanan backtracked, and they converged near the chain-link fence.
Ijames bumped into the fence as he made a sliding catch with Koontz tagging up at third.
“I just stuck my glove out, caught it and somebody said, ‘Four,’ ” Ijames said. “The instinct is just to come up gunning, come up throwing.”
Ijames jumped to his feet, whirled around to face home and unleashed a throw to catcher Andrew Butler as Koontz chugged down the line.
The ball easily beat Koontz to the plate, and Butler applied the tag as Koontz danced around the batters box.
“Ben, he’s a miracle worker,” Britt said. “That was fantastic. He was my hero on that play.”
Ledford coach Chris Adams expressed some regret over sending Koontz home following the first out of the inning, but Maddox said he likely would have done the same thing given Ijames’ positioning.”We may have been a bit too overly aggressive trying to get in there at the plate on the short fly ball to right field,” Adams said. “All in all, a well-played game on both sides. When you get in a game like this, four or five plays are going to generally decide it. I think we can probably sit here and look at the four or five plays that did decide it, and they made more of those plays than we did.”
Ledford’s leadoff hitter reached base for the third straight inning when Ryan Fitzgerald opened the sixth with a single, and he stole second. Britt induced a pair of groundouts, and Fitzgerald advanced on the second one. Britt walked Luke Ledwell, the ninth-place hitter, but Jacob Scott bunted the ball directly to Britt on the first pitch of the next at-bat.
“Alex had to battle, but that’s the sign of a good pitcher,” Maddox said. “He was getting himself out of jams, and he was pitching to a good team.”
Britt struck out Vaughn on three pitches to begin the seventh and fell behind 3-0 to Koontz, who was just a single shy of the cycle. He took the next three pitches, and all three were called strikes.
Dupre then fielded a high chopper near the third-base line, and Britt braced himself as the throw soared toward Buchanan.
“I just thought about hitting my spots the whole time,” Britt said. “The last guy, I was pretty nervous, but I just went right after him.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.