Prep Baseball : Carson 5, West Rowan 4
By David Shaw
MOUNT ULLA — Carson’s baseball team didn’t do anything the easy way Friday night.
The Cougars stumbled down the stairs at West Rowan and somehow landed on their feet.
“We made it more interesting than it had to be,” winning coach Chris Cauble said after Carson rallied for a 5-4, eight-inning win. “It was a battle, but we’ll take the ‘W.’”
CHS (8-6, 5-3 NPC) snapped a two-game losing streak and strengthened its grip on fourth place in the league standings. Sixth-place West (2-14, 1-7) erased a two-run deficit when Patrick Hampton conked a game-tying sixth-inning home run, then scored twice in the bottom of the eighth before succumbing.
“It was a great game to watch. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of it,” said Falcons’ coach Chad Parker. “We’ve been that close a lot of times. We’ve got to get over that hump so people will start to believe.”
The teams played this game in a hurry until the final inning. It was barely an hour old when Carson plated its second unearned run against West righthander Matt Miller in the top of the sixth to take a 2-0 lead. The first run crossed in the top of the fourth when Gunnar Hogan reached on an error and eventually scored when teammate Gavin Peeler was caught in a rundown.
Two innings later Joe Basinger scored on Peeler’s foul-out to first-basemen Madison Osborne. Both of Carson’s runs scored without the benefit of a base hit.
“We really haven’t been hitting like we need to be,” Cauble said. “We came into the game knowing we’d have to try to small-ball a run here and there when we could. It worked for us.”
All that work was nullified when Hampton drove a 1-2 pitch from Carson reliever Ethan Free in the woods in left-center field.
“We’d been getting guys on base all night but we kept making bonehead mistakes,” said Hampton. “I’ve been talking all year about ‘thewant to,’ and how good teams seem to have ‘the want to.’ When I came up with a man on in the sixth, I knew it was time to shut up and produce.”
Hampton said he connected on a belt-high curveball for his second home run of the season. “It was a really good AB,” said Parker. “Before that he fouled a couple pitches over our dugout. He was just waiting for a mistake.”
Each team went down quietly in the seventh inning before Carson’s Kyle Bridges legged out an infield hit to open the top of the eighth. Hogan followed with a well-placed bunt toward the right side. When first base was left uncovered, the Cougars had two on with nobody out.
Next up was Basinger, who became Miller’s fourth hit-by-pitch victim. Following a popup, Peeler failed to get down a squeeze bunt and Bridges was tagged out at home by West catcher Steven Crandall, leaving runners at first and second with two away.
“I just missed it,” said Peeler, who was no match for Miller’s biting fastball. “I thought I had a better look at it. It was high, breaking away and I just didn’t go with it.”
Peeler redeemed himself three pitches later when his smash up the middle was knocked down by West shortstop Hunter Teeter. In the ensuing scamble Hogan scored to give Carson a 3-2 edge. DH Mitch Galloway followed with a screeching liner that caught the left side of Hampton’s neck in center field. As he fell to the ground, momentarily dazed, two more Carson runners came home.
“Yeah, that sent me for a spin,” said Hampton, a tough hombre who was OK after the game. “It was just a routine line drive right at me that I lost in the lights.”
Winning pitcher Free (3-3) dug himself a final-inning hole when he yielded a leadoff single to Chandler Jones and walks to Osborne and Miller, loading the bases with none out. West drew within 5-3 on Hampton’s groundout and 5-4 on Ethan Wansley’s Texas League single to left. Hampton was retired trying to reach third base on the hit. The game ended when teammate Justin Evans flew out.
“This was one of the strangest games I’ve been in for a while,” Cauble exhaled afterward. “I told them I was proud of them for not quitting when (Hampton) hit the home run.”
Camouflaged in the dramatic finish was a terrific start by Peeler. The senior righthander pitched scoreless, two-hit ball for five innings, though he walked four and uncorked a couple of wild pitches. “He was nearing his 100-pitch count,” Cauble reported. “And right now his arm is more important than anything else.”
NOTES: Peeler’s ERA dipped to 2.70. Bridges went 2-for-4 and lifted his average to .374. … West returns to action Tuesday at home against Statesville. Carson plays four games this week— beginning Tuesday at home against North Iredell and finishingwith next Saturday’s non-leaguer against visiting Davie County.
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