Prep Baseball: North Iredell 4, Carson 3
By David Shaw
OLIN ó The words oozed from Chris Cauble’s mouth just moments before visiting Carson faced North Iredell on Friday night.
“If we win this one,” he said, “we’ll be in the driver’s seat for that last playoff spot.”
Instead, the Cougars hit an oil slick with the checkered flag in sight. They surrendered two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and lost 4-3 on a two-out flare single by Ryan Rutten.
“That one inning could have had us packing up or going on the playoffs,” said Cauble, Carson’s second-year coach. “We still can control our own destiny by winning. But now we’ve got a tough week ahead.”
Carson (8-12, 6-9 NPC) essentially needs to run the table and win its remaining games against Northwest Cabarrus, Statesville and West Iredell to secure one of the league’s six state playoff berths.
“Now we’re really going to have to fight,” said losing pitcher Randy Shepherd. “Nothing comes easy.”
Nothing came easy against the Raiders (9-8, 7-8), especially in the final inning. Carson had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth when Gunnar Hogan dropped a leadoff double into the left-field corner, Jeremy Mullis singled him to third and Shepherd skipped a run-scoring single to left.
“They were in pretty good shape,” said North coach Matthew Poole, a former Catawba infielder. “But that’s just how this conference is. We’ve had four one-run losses and were looking at a fifth. But that’s baseball for you.”
Carson fell to 0-4 in one-run games when Shepherd (5-4) ó the hard-throwing right-hander who retired 14 of 15 batters during a mid-game stretch ó ran out of April fuel in the seventh. First, he issued a leadoff walk to Michael McNeely, NI’s No. 9 hitter. Then, Tyler Jordan lined an RBI-double that whistled over left-fielder Scott Ashby’s head and tied the score.
With southpaw Will Misenheimer loosening in the bullpen, Cauble had a decision to make ó and it wasn’t like choosing fries or onion rings.
“It was important,” the coach said. “But Shepherd’s pitch count wasn’t very high, still in the low 80’s. And he’s been our workhorse stud all season.”
After a visit to the mound, Shepherd was spared. But he promptly hit Tyler Christenberry with a pitch that put two runners on base with none out.
“My arm started getting sore in the sixth,” the tall senior noted. “In the last inning I just couldn’t find it.”
He found enough to induce a foul-out before fanning cleanup hitter Chris Bustle. That brought up Rutten, a junior first-baseman with a batting average right around .300. His game-winning hit came on an 0-1 fastball, low-and-away.
“He’d been throwing me curveballs all night,” Rutten said. “That one was a fastball on the corner. It was just choke-and-poke, trying to make contact. Sometimes it works.”
His soft-serve hit barely eluded Carson second-baseman Zach Grkman and landed in shallow right-center. Outfielder Zack Bottenfield charged the ball and made a strong throw to the plate, but Jordan hustled home with the decisive run.
“Randy was battling and actually made a good pitch on the guy that delivered the hit,” said Cauble. “The guy hit it off the end of the bat. If he had hit it off the good part, we might have had a chance. But it was hit so soft, there wasn’t any way Bottenfield could have made that play.”
NOTES: Hogan also had a first-inning triple that drove in Carson’s first run. Its second scored on Zach Wright’s sac fly in the fifth. … Catcher Joseph Basinger went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt. … North put its leadoff batter on base in the first, second and seventh innings ó and each eventually crossed the plate.
Contact David Shaw at email@example.com.