Shaw column: Always expect wackiness in NPC
CHINA GROVE — The season-ending episode of “How The NPC Turns” is one you’ll be watching on re-runs years from now.
There was award-winning drama. Tragedy and triumph. Intrigue and controversy.
And of course, a history-making performance by Carson’s fight-for-everything baseball team.
“This,” senior shortstop Josh Martin said late Thursday night, “is so surreal. It’s almost hard to believe.”
That’s because Carson’s 12-inning victory over West Iredell in the conference championship game was, at times, unbelievable. It wasn’t just a ballgame — it was a three-hour-and-20-minute test-of-nerves. An old-fashioned, after-school streetfight between respected foes. When you fight someone this hard for this long, you don’t just see the punches thrown. You see into the heart of the other team.
“I guess the baseball gods weren’t smiling upon us,” WI southpaw Sean Grant said. “We played tough. They played a little tougher. It seemed like this whole year was one big crazy season.”
It was, right down to the final swing — Dylan Carpenter’s game-winning single to left field that delivered junior Greg Tonnesen.
“I was about up to the sky,” said Carson starting pitcher Colton Laws. “We had to chase Carp all the way out to center field.”
Laws grabbed the early headlines, dominating thefirst six innings and coming within three outs of a no-hitter. The sophomore had retired 18 of the 20 batters he’d faced, including 10 straight.
“He was just locked in,” said his catcher, Bryson Prugh. “He didn’t miss any spots. He kept making them pop up or ground out without throwing a lot of pitches.”
Now consider that Laws’ mound foe couldn’t raise his right arm after the game.
“I can’t even feel my shoulder,” West senior Sam Marshall said. “I had to pitch with tendonitis. But I take the blame for their first run, the one that scored on a wild pitch.”
That happened in the Carson fourth, moments after Martin collected the second of his three hits. He doubled home a second run in the sixth, setting the stage for what the Cougars hoped would be a suitable-for-framing seventh inning.
That’s when the wheels fell off. It was 2-1 when Lance Clanton bounced a tailor-made double play ball to Martin, who flipped to second-baseman Chase Johnson for a forceout. Johnson’s relay to first appeared to beat Clanton, but he was ruled safe as the tying run scored.
“On the field,” first-baseman Heath Mitchem explained, “I felt the ball was in my glove before he touched the base. It was a pretty shocking call because I was ready to celebrate. We all were. We thought it was the ballgame.”
Instead the game bled into extra innings. Grant, who relieved Marshall in the sixth, was the focal point of a 20-minute delay in the 10th. Seems he had already pitched 12 innings this week.
“The state rule is 12 innings in three days,” he said. “This was 12 within four days.”
With that settled, the match stretched to the 11th, when Martin was disqualified for questioning a third-strike call. “With all the emotions, I said something I shouldn’t have,” he reported. “But I’m thankful it was just a DQ, not an ejection.”
By the 12th, tempers both on and off the field were growing short. There were a few hundred fans lining the field’s perimeter — and a million butterflies.
“It was the longest and most intense game I’ve ever been in,” said Prugh.
It ended almost by accident. Tonnesen led of the last of the 12th and lifted a lazy foul ball that West third-baseman Dwayne Williams misplayed and let fall.
“I saw it go up and figured I was out,” Tonnesen said.
Officially Billy Martined, he got a second chance and coaxed a base on balls.
“That was momentum changing,” Prugh said. “It gave us hope again.”
Following an error and an intentional walk, Carpenter ended the marathon with a sharp base hit.
“It was about time something went our way,” Tonnesen said. “It just proves that sometimes, the little things in baseball can make or break a game.”
And that sometimes, the team that’s been standing in line all season can be the last team standing.