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Prep Baseball: Salisbury 3, Providence Grove 1: Hornets in CCC tournament final Monday

By David Shaw
dshaw@salisburypost.com
WALLBURG ó Salisbury’s improbable run through the CCC tournament continued Friday night.
The seventh-seeded Hornets used a baseball version of the end-around play to reach Monday night’s championship at Ledford High School
“It’s do-or-die and we’re just responding,” senior Forrest Buchanan said after SHS gained a 3-1 semifinal win over Providence Grove. “We’re a young team and we’ve been waiting for it to come together all year. It finally is.”
Salisbury (7-16) needs to beat East Davidson ó an 8-6 upset winner over regular-season champ West Davidson ó and win the tourney title to gain a state playoff berth.
“One win away from being a two-seed in the playoffs,” winning coach Scott Maddox beamed. “Just like East Davidson is. You just take ’em one at a time and Monday’s a whole new night.”
There would be no Monday had Salisbury not received a a clutch pitching performance from Russell Michalec. The senior left-hander’s performance was more prose than poetry, more spit than shine ó yet magnificently effective.
“It’s his last year here so he knows he has to produce,” said junior catcher Jordan Fuller. “He was good and we made enough plays behind him to get by.”
Michalec, who won for only the second time, was best at adjusting to the plate umpire’s floating casino strike zone. He yielded a first-inning run, then worked out of difficult jams in the second, third and sixth innings, finishing with a complete-game 7-hitter.
“I was throwing pitches for strikes that I usually don’t,” said Michalec, who blended a streamlined fastball with an assortment of off-speed stuff.
“I’ve been struggling with my breaking ball all season, but tonight I was able to throw it for strikes.”
Michalec tossed a verbal bouquet to assistant coach Justin Morgan, who handles Salisbury’s pitchers.
“He had confidence in me on every pitch,” the southpaw said.
Salisbury had a tough time reading PG starter Ben Pugh, a right-handed sophomore, until John Knox drew a leadoff walk in the top of the third. He reached second on a groundout and scored the tying run when Michalec flared an RBI single into right field.
An inning later the Hornets packaged singles by Fuller, Buchanan and Frankie Cardelle to take a 2-1 lead.
“It was difficult waiting back on (Pugh),” Buchanan said after going 3-for-4 and pushing his averge back to .388. “After we got our timing down we started doing a lot better.”
They nearly broke the game open in the top of the sixth against PG reliever Zack Mills ó loading the bases with one out. But Mills escaped unharmed.
Salisbury, which stunned Central Davidson in Thursday’s opening round, added an insurance run against Christian Snider in the seventh inning. Michalec coaxed a one-out walk, stole a couple of bases and scored when Fuller steered a two-out single into center field. “He just went up there and said, ‘I’m gonna hit this,’ ” said Michalec. “When we needed a clutch hit, he was there.”
So was Michalec, who surrendered a two-out double to Jordan Smith in the last of the seventh. But he induced Dustin Cockman to lift a game-ending flyout ó on a 3-1 pitch ó to left fielder Damon Bowman.
“I guess we’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Fuller said afterward. “I think it’s been a growing process. We had to realize we were this good before we could start playing this good.”

NOTES: The Hornets split two regular-season games with fourth-seeded East Davidson (12-10). … Maddox said Buchanan (4-4, 3.52 ERA) will likely start on three days rest. … Maddox had promised the Hornets a post-game meal at East Coast Wings if they won. “It was an expensive win, but worth it,” he said.

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