Prep baseball: Carson 2, West Rowan 0
By Marny Hendrick
CHINA GROVE — Carson Coach Chris Cauble feels it is time to put up a banner in the school gym for baseball. The Cougars will now get that chance tonight after squeezing past West Rowan 2-0 in a North Piedmont Conference semi-final game Wednesday on their home field.
Sophomore Dillon Atwell tossed a complete game 5 hitter with six strikeouts to prevail in a tense pitching duel with West Rowan’s Michael Ball. Both pitched well enough to win but solid defense and some timely hitting in the 4th inning proved to be the difference.
“We pride ourselves on pitching and defense, “ Cauble stated afterwards. “Atwell pitched flawlessly tonight and we made the plays behind him.” Cauble had special praise for senior second baseman Chase Johnson for his overall performance that included six putouts. Two key plays were a 4-6-3 double play he started in the 5th when West had a real threat brewing and a remarkable foul pop catch down the right field line in the seventh for the second out.
“I just tried to stay with it and make the play, “ Johnson said. “I think our defense was the key tonight but we did hit well enough to win too.”
The Cougars (15-9) got all the runs they needed in bottom of the 4th on singles by Josh Martin, Colton Laws and Connor Bridges to make it 1-0. The second run came across with two outs when West shortstop Hunter Teeter bobbled a grounder up the middle that allowed Laws to score from third.
It was the only time during the night that Carson got to Falcon starter Ball, who was otherwise very efficient with 4 strikeouts and no walks. But unlike Atwell, he got no support from his offense.
West Rowan mounted their own threat in the top of the 5th when Ball reached on a strikeout/wild pitch and Rhett Hellard walked. Atwell fell behind the next hitter but after a brief mound conference he induced a ground ball for an inning-ending double play to preserve the 2-0 lead. The only other true threat for West came in the top of the first when they got a two out double from Justin Evans. Louis Kraft then lined a single to right to send Evans towards home.
Cougar right fielder Greg Tonneson had other ideas however, as he fired a no-hop strike to catcher Bryson Prugh that nailed Evans by about 10 feet.
No one appreciated that play and his team’s overall defense more than Atwell.
“I was trying to move the ball around, change speeds and hit my spots,” Atwell said, “But my defense really came through tonight on more than one occasion.”
West Rowan Coach Chad Parker could only shake his head and agree afterwards.
“Their kid pitched great and they played great behind him.” Parker noted, “ I am not disappointed in the way we played but I am disappointed we are not playing tomorrow night.”
The Falcons (11-13) will now have to pull for the Cougars to win in the title game Thursday so West can maintain their No. 3 seed in the state play-offs next week.
As for Carson, they now have a golden opportunity Thursday night as they host upset minded #5 seed West Iredell for the NPC crown. It would be the first such championship for the Cougars in their brief history.
“At one point we were 3-5 and we were struggling,” noted Cauble. “But the best part is that we had our destiny in out own hands and we responded. Hopefully tomorrow night will make it all worth it.”
All of the Cougars know that they are facing a solid West Iredell team that is literally fighting for their play-off lives. They have to win the tournament or their season is over.
But as defensive star Johnson noted “We are playing for something as well…we are playing for a top seed in the play-offs and of course a conference championship.”
NOTES: The game only took 1 hour and 29 minutes to complete. Atwell improved to 6-1 for the season and with the shutout lowered his already impressive 1.32 ERA. Colton Laws is expected to take the mound Thursday for Carson.