Prep Baseball Playoffs: Carson 5, Parkwood 0
By David Shaw
CHINA GROVE — Keep growing those post-season beards, Carson baseball fans. The Cougars are headed to the second round.
CHS advanced Friday night with a tidy 5-0 victory over visiting Parkwood in the opening round of the 3A state playoffs. Its reward is a second-round matchup Tuesday at Northwest Cabarrus.
“It’s for the playoffs,” coach Chris Cauble said, stroking some freshly sprouted facial hair after Carson (18-9) won its eighth straight game. “I’m hoping it continues to bring us good luck.”
It worked for sophomore Dillon Atwell, the righthander who has sported a modest beard of his own since the winter.
“I know I’m keeping it for the rest of the playoffs,” he said with a post-game smile.
Atwell was far from overpowering, but he teased and tortured Parkwood (9-16) for six near-flawless innings. He scattered five hits and oddly, didn’t record a strikeout or issue a walk.
“He pitched to contact,” Cauble said. “He wasn’t trying to strike anybody out. The no walks was a lot more important to me than no strikeouts.”
Atwell coupled an effective curveball with a deceptive changeup and a late-moving fastball. He improved to 7-1 and lowered his ERA to 0.98.
“He was in his own world tonight,” said Carson catcher Bryson Prugh. “He very calmly mixed things up. Sometimes his pitches would cut early and sometimes they’d move late.”
Parkwood coach Andrew Starnes said Carson’s defense made all the difference.
“We kept hitting the ball in the air and they’d run it down,” he said. “And they hit a lot of balls that were just out of our reach.”
Carson grabbed a 2-0 lead against losing pitcher Bucky Rape in the bottom of the second inning. Colton Laws and Greg Tonnessen delivered base hits before a two-out balk moved them both into scoring position. Teammate Chase Johnson knocked in the first run when he legged out an infield hit and another crossed on a wild pitch.
An inning later it was 3-0 after K.J. Pressley coaxed a leadoff walk, stole second, took third on a passed ball and scored on an error.
“We’ve got the pitching,” Pressley said after going 2-for-3, scoring twice and making four putouts in center field. “And we hit just enough. Call it timely hitting.”
The game was not without controversy. Starnes was confined to the Parkwood dugout after the plate umpire ruled Dillon Rannow’s grounder a fair ball in the top of the third.
“It hit off the inside of his left foot,” Starnes said. “Why else would he not have run? He’s a guy with plus speed. He could have beaten that out.”
Atwell threw Rannow out at first base, just moments before Parkwood’s Larry Parker and Rape produced back-to-back singles.
“The baseball gods were shining on us tonight,” Prugh said afterward. “They all wanted us to pull this one out.”
Atwell was appreciative of Carson’s stellar defense, saying “They were begging for the ball. “They were asking me for it. Everyone wanted a piece of the action.”
When reliever Ethan Free tossed a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Carson had its 10th shutout of the season and its first state playoff victory in China Grove.
“In the playoffs, it’s whatever it takes,” Cauble said. “We had enough to win the game.”