Prep Baseball: Carson 5, North Iredell 0: Atwell pitches Cougars to second seed
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson pitcher Dillon Atwell made one of his few mistakes on Friday, and North Iredell leadoff man Trey Gibson sent a fastball down the middle whistling toward left field.
Third baseman Connor Bridges didn’t have time to think, but apparently he was bitten by a radioactive spider as a youngster. He went airborne, snagged the ball while hovering parallel to the infield — and turned that screamer into just another out.
Bridges was great in Carson’s 5-0 NPC victory, and Dylan Carpenter, a second center fielder disguised as a left fielder, was even better. He made two dazzling plays, one racing toward the line, and the other sprinting toward the alley.
“I asked Chris (Cauble) if he’d mind taking the left fielder and the third baseman out of the game, but he wasn’t interested,” joked North Iredell coach Denny Key. “Those two together, they made some plays. It was like they had a gazelle in left field.”
Carson was flawless — and then some — defensively, and that led to a pretty routine Senior Night victory.
“Defense is what we try to pride ourselves on,” Cauble said. “We want our pitchers not to feel like they have to strike out everyone.”
The game helped sort out the NPC’s jumbled playoff picture. Once 3-4 in the league, Carson finished 8-4 and alone in second place.
“We started out well, but then we went through a three-week stretch where we were playing once a week — and losing that one,” said Cauble, who has an 84-65 record as the only head coach the Cougars have ever had. “We haven’t hit like I think we can, but our pitching and defense have been our strength.”
The turning point, no doubt, was a dramatic Easter tournament comeback win against Mount Pleasant. Since then, Carson (14-9) has won six of seven.
“We just started to click,” sophomore catcher Bryson Prugh said. “And Atwell has had a big role in that.”
Atwell (5-1) has had sharper-breaking stuff, but the sophomore was never in trouble against North Iredell (9-9, 6-6), which finished tied for fourth with South Rowan and West Iredell and will be seeded sixth for the NPC tourney.
“My fastball was pretty good, but there were a few times when I was trying to come inside on hitters and didn’t get it far enough in, and those were the balls they hit hard,” Atwell said. “I’ve just got to thank my defense for this one. They made some heck-of-a-plays out there.”
NI starter Drew Weibley got the first two Cougars out in the second, but then he allowed singles to Bridges and Austin McNeill. No. 9 hitter Chase Johnson then delivered Carson’s best at-bat.
“The two guys in front of me did some work, so I had to do something too,” Johnson said. “He got two strikes on me, so I shortened up to protect. Then he threw an outside fastball and I hit it that way.”
Johnson’s single to right scored the only run Atwell would need, and NI committed two errors on that play to allow a second run.
Weibley kept the deficit at 2-0 until the fifth, but Carson got three in the fifth against Weibley and reliever Clint Jordan. Two walks, two errors, a balk and Prugh’s two-run single broke it open.
“Didn’t hit that ball great, but it gave Atwell the cushion he needed,” Prugh said.
Carson only managed five hits, but it had an enormous advantage with the gloves — six errors to none.
“Both teams threw strikes and both teams put the ball in play,” Key said. “The difference was defense. They made all the plays and we made some horrible errors.”
The applause for Atwell was loud when Cauble lifted him one out shy of a shutout so senior Austin Bracewell could close things out.
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