Prep Baseball: West clinches fifth place, playoff berth
By Bret Strelow
MOORESVILLE ó Hernan Bautista caught the strike that ended West Rowan’s 5-4 victory against Mooresville, and he rolled the ball to the mound before sprinting toward the dugout.
Relief pitcher Zack Simpson retrieved the ball and tossed it to the plate umpire, but Simpson and the Falcons didn’t exit Mooresville empty-handed.West (14-10, 9-9) secured fifth place in the NPC and clinched a playoff berth by beating the second-place Blue Devils on Monday night.
Simpson, who stranded a runner at third with his third strikeout of the seventh inning, was walking across the field with some teammates after the game when Mooresville assistant Johnny Meadows approached the group.Meadows handed Simpson one of the gameballs.
“Go put this on the mantel in your house,” Meadows said.
The win was special for West, which will travel to Waxhaw on Friday to face SPC champion Marvin Ridge in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
Mooresville scored four times in the sixth inning to erase a 4-0 deficit, and Bautista’s two-out double to center sent Brett Huffman home with a run in the seventh.
“It’s a big win, and not just because it puts us in the playoffs,” coach David Wright said. “It’s a character win.
“We’ve had a lot of valleys, and we’re starting to climb that hill with this young team.”
West started the NPC season 1-5 and won eight of its last 12 conference games.
The 3A bracket includes spots for six NPC teams, and a loss to Mooresville would have dropped the Falcons into a four-way tie for fifth place.
“We came in and played as hard as we’ve been playing and just kept it going,” Bautista said. “We have heart.”
Huffman was hit by a pitch from reliever Aubrey Meadows, Mooresville’s ace, to begin the seventh inning.
Center fielder T.C. Cathcart slipped and fell as he began to pursue Bautista’s fly ball. Cathcart couldn’t make a catch with his back facing the infield, and Huffman scored.Simpson opened the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout but walked Billy Nantz. Simpson fanned Meadows, and Nantz reached third thanks to a wild pitch and passed ball during an at-bat by Dylan West. He struck out swinging.
“We were at the heart of the order,” Simpson said. “Everybody was nervous and excited all at the same time, and we just beared down. I listened to my catcher finally, got a good pitch and threw it.”Mooresville, assured of finishing second in the NPC, started senior Jonathan Mayes on the mound. Mayes, who had pitched four total innings before Monday, allowed three unearned runs in the second inning. West’s lead grew when Bautista homered.
Jake Koontz, who gave up two hits in the first five frames, plunked a batter and walked one in the sixth before Mooresville’s West homered.
Simpson allowed another run, and the Falcons brought the infield in with one out and runners on second and third.
Philip Miclat fielded a grounder at short and fired to first for one out. Mooresville’s Johnny McElhany strayed too far from second, and Huffman delivered a throw to Tyler King to start a rundown. He threw the ball home when Jon Crucitti darted down the line, and the Falcons alternated between rundowns with both players before catching Crucitti near third.”As many throws as it had, we had great rotations and guys covering their places,” Wright said.
“I think that’s the first time this year we’ve brought the infield in and actually had a ball hit to an infielder.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.