Prep Baseball: Carson 3, West Iredell 2: Carson wins NPC championship

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2012

By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson coach Chris Cauble took a direct hit from the traditional Gatorade bath and was drenched head to toe, but he kept smiling as he clutched the NPC tournament trophy.
Carson had won the Cliff Peeler Easter Tournament in 2010, but it never had won anything in the conference until Cauble hoisted the hardware late Thursday night.
“Ever since I got here, this is what we’ve been battling for,” said Carson senior Ethan Free, who stood tallest among a stack of heroes.
It was memorable — to say the least. Dylan Carpenter, the 46th Cougar to step to the plate, won it with a solid, one-out single in the bottom of the 12th that sent Greg Tonnesen dashing to the plate for a 3-2 victory over West Iredell.
“I was just thinking how much we deserved it because we fought so hard for it,” Tonnesen said. “It’s about time.”
The win preserved Carson’s home game for the first round of playoffs, put South Rowan in the playoffs, and ended West Iredell’s season.
“Every time we play West Iredell, it’s a real struggle,” Cauble said. “And this one topped them all.”
Carson starter Colton Laws pitched no-hit ball for six innings, and the Cougars appeared to most everyone in the ballpark to end the game in the top of the seventh by turning a double play.
But the Cougars didn’t get that call, and the game headed for the Twilight Zone. There was a 30-minute delay as debate raged over whether WI star Sean Grant was still eligible to pitch in the 10th, and Carson shortstop Josh Martin was DQ’d for reacting to a called strike in the 11th.
Sam Marshall, the usual catcher, started the championship game and kept the Warriors close into the sixth.
“I’ve had teams that won more, but I’m as proud of this bunch as any because of their fight,” WI coach Randy Martin said. “We don’t have a lot of players, and we tried to piece it together on the mound like a jigsaw puzzle.”
The coach turned to Grant to relieve Marshall, and Grant stayed and stayed. When he went out for the 10th — his 13th inning of the tournament — Cauble questioned it. All parties agreed there’s a 12-inning limit, but that limit apparently isn’t per week, it’s for a three-day period, so Grant was eligible. When that was cleared up, Grant went back to work and silenced the Cougars through the 11th.
“The plan was for Sean to pitch the sixth and seventh, but the worst happened, and we got deep into extra innings,” Coach Martin said. “After the 11th, I had to tell him that was enough.”
Josh Martin scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 Carson lead in the fourth. Martin greeted Grant with a hit in the sixth that drove in K.J. Pressley for a 2-0 edge.
Laws had dominated to that point, but Grant broke up the no-hitter in the seventh, and Luke Elliott’s RBI single made it 2-1. The tying run scored when the Cougars didn’t get that call at first on Lance Clanton’s bouncer that nearly triggered a game-ending 6-4-3 twin killing.
Free, Mr. Unlucky most of the season, replaced Laws on the mound in the eighth. His luck finally changed when he speared a hot liner to end the eighth, and he mowed down the Warriors after that.
“It was about the first day all year I felt 100 percent,” Free said. “That line drive almost hit me in the head. Never saw it, but I caught it.”
Carson (17-9) got a break in the 12th, with Grant finally away from the mound.
Tonnesen popped up in foul territory for what should’ve been the second out, but he got new life when the ball was dropped. Then he walked and got to third when Austin McNeill’s grounder was thrown away. After an intentional walk to Free, Carpenter delivered the victory.
“I wanted to end it with a hit,” Carpenter said. “And I know I’ll never forget it.”