Prep Baseball: Carson 4, West Rowan 1

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Sporting a .158 batting average, sophomore Austin McNeill seemed an odd choice as Carson’s DH, but he keyed the offense in a 4-1 NPC win against West Rowan on Tuesday and made coach Chris Cauble look brilliant.
“The jump to facing varsity pitching has been tough for Austin,” Cauble said. “But the last few weeks he’s started hitting the ball hard — only he’s really been sort of snakebit.”
McNeill, best known as the Cougars’ football quarterback, decided to bite West. He went 2-for-2, plus a walk, out of the No. 8 hole in the lineup and was the only guy in a Colton Laws vs. Matt Miller pitcher’s duel who didn’t make an out.
“I was in a little rut,” said McNeill, expected to be Carson’s shortstop in 2013 and 2014. “But I’ve been finding the sweet spot more lately.”
The other hero for Carson (12-9, 6-4) was Laws, another sophomore, which says something about how bright the future is for the Cougars.
Laws (3-0) got nicked for a run in the first inning when he walked two batters to set the table for an RBI single by Louis Kraft, but he stranded Falcons at second and third with the first two of the dozen strikeouts he would accumulate. Both huge Ks came on darting sliders.
“My fastball was sailing way high, and that’s why I walked some people,” Laws said. “But my slider was working and breaking late.”
Laws escaped a shaky second with the help of a West baserunning mistake. He started cruising in the third and Carson was on its way to its third straight NPC victory.
Miller, a savvy senior who relies on his curveball, rolled through Carson’s lineup the first two innings and probably breathed a sigh of relief when he saw McNeill stepping to the plate to begin the third.
But moments after Carson assistant Dwayne Fink reminded the Cougars to think opposite field against Miller, McNeill was steaming into second after banging a double to the wall in right field.
“We knew Miller would work us away,” McNeill said. “I got an outside fastball and just did what practiced.”
No. 9 hitter Heath Mitchem, a freshman, singled, and Carson was in business. Dylan Carpenter’s hit to center tied the game at 1-all. Then with one out, Josh Martin rapped a pitch meekly toward sophomore third baseman Nick Collins. Collins had a play at home, but he bobbled the bouncer as the go-ahead run scored. Then he threw wildly past first base.
Miller still didn’t cave. He stranded two runners to keep West in it — down 2-1.
The bad news for West (9-12, 6-5) was Laws had found a rhythm. He struck out six straight hitters at one point and was handed a 4-1 cushion when Carson scratched out two more runs in the fifth.
“I think Colton was a little tight early because he was pitching against some guys he went to middle school (Southeast) with,” Cauble said. “But once he found it, he gave an awesome performance.”
West couldn’t get anything going. Laws plunked Bryce Burns leading off he fifth, but Hunter Teeter couldn’t get a sacrifice bunt down, and then rapped into a double play.
Kraft ripped a single to left-center to open the sixth but he was nailed by a nice relay when he tried to stretch his hit into a double. West coach Chad Parker could only shake his head when Michael Pinkston naturally followed Kraft with another solid hit.
“We didn’t do a lot of little baseball things right tonight,” Parker said. “The opportunities were there for us to build on that 1-0 lead, but we just didn’t capitalize.”
Laws didn’t pitch much early this season, but he’s capitalized since he got his chance to take charge on the mound.
“I just told Coach that I’d be ready if he ever needed me,” Laws said.
Carson has swept West and can finish as high as second.