Peeler Classic semifinal: McMichael 9, Lake Norman 5

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 24, 2011

By David Shaw
Late Saturday
SALISBURY — A show of hands, please, from anyone who believed McMichael would be playing in Monday night’s Cliff Peeler Classic championship game.
Few, if any, of the Fighting Phoenix anticipated a showdown with red-hot Davie County. And certainly no one in the Lake Norman dugout late Saturday night saw this coming.
“I think that was our problem,” LN coach Robert Little said after the Wildcats were stunned 9-5 in the semifinals. “We all saw ourselves playing Monday night.”
Instead, Lake Norman (17-5) gets a third-place game earlier in the day against North Rowan. McMichael (13-7), meanwhile, has emerged as the tournament’s Cinderella team — one that didn’t turn into a pumpkin once the game extended past midnight.
“We can play with anybody,” catcher Ryan Puckett said. “All we have to do is show up and play our game.”
McMichael used two big innings to erase an early 2-0 deficit and fell the Wildcats. It scored five times in the top of the fourth against losing pitcher Joey McAlpin, a southpaw who magnificently retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced.
“Then he got tired,” Little reported. “He lost sight of the plate and kept falling behind.”
Puckett was the first McMichael batter to get a hit when he smashed a 3-2 pitch over the fence in the left-center field. Then with two outs and the bases loaded, first-round hero Justin Cook whipped a three-run double right down the right-field line.
The beneficiary was right-hander Michael Doss, a senior who earned his first victory in four decisions. In six innings, he allowed only two earned runs and struck out nine — including five straight in the fourth and fifth innings.
“I threw 32 pitches the first inning,” Doss said. “But as I started throwing more strikes, I noticed they weren’t hitting me hard. I had to come over the top more with my curveball, instead of side-to-side.”
Puckett, who homered earlier against Salisbury, agreed. “Usually, I’m blocking 90 percent of his curves,” he said. “Tonight, he was getting it over, getting ahead.”
McAlpin belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to bring Lake Norman within 5-4. But a four-run seventh — sparked by Puckett’s two-run single — salted the game away. Reliever Jeff Harris closed it out with two seventh-inning strikeouts.
“We’re just not swinging the bats well at all,” Little said after LN fanned 11 times. “Hopefully, spring break fixes it.”
That won’t happen in the final. McMichael, the 2009 2A state champ, is your surprise entry. “We definitely didn’t expect this,” said Doss. “We thought maybe we’d win our first game, but now we can win the whole thing.”