Prep baseball playoffs: Carson 1, Northwest Cabarrus 0
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — Carson sophomore Colton Laws seemingly was in a jam from the time he got off the bus, but he stranded 10 baserunners and beat high-voltage Northwest Cabarrus 1-0 in a Thursday thriller.
Nursing that 1-0 lead since the first, Laws appeared to be tiring in the sixth of the 3A second-round playoff game when he was saved by one of several remarkable catches made by center fielder K.J. Pressley. A racing Pressley caught a smash off the bat of losing pitcher Weston Smith as he and right fielder Greg Tonnesen converged almost in straightaway right.
“Just got a great jump on that one,” said a shrugging Pressley, who always seems to get a great jump.
Carson coach Chris Cauble was aware Laws would be seeing two of the state’s best hitters — Tanner Bigham and Corey Seager — for the fourth time in the bottom of the seventh, and he gave the kid a chance to pass the baton to a rested bullpen.
“I asked Colton how did he feel, and he looked me in the eye and said he wanted the baseball,” Cauble said.
Music to a coach’s ears.
Evan Holub drilled a Laws pitch to begin the seventh, but it was an instant replay for the Trojans. Pressley glided over and easily made the catch.
Leadoff man Bigham smoked a single to right, his third hit. Then Seager, given nothing to swing at, accepted roughly the 1,000th walk of his career and trotted to first.
That put the tying run at second and the winning run at first, and Tyler Noyes, with two hits already in the bank, stepped to the plate. The 6-foot-5 Laws got him to pop up and caught the ball himself in front of the dish as he towered above catcher Bryson Prugh.
The last hope for the home team was lefty Jordan Goodman, and Laws, who threw more breaking balls than fastballs, showed the craftiness of a 35-year-old veteran after he got two strikes on the slugger.
“I told Bryson I was going to shake him off once, just to put some doubt in the hitter’s mind and make him believe it was going to be another curveball,” Laws said. “But we were going with the fastball, and I gave it all I had.”
It was the hardest heater Laws threw all night. Goodman’s level swing came up empty, and the youthful Cougars, 8-8 not long ago and twice losers to Northwest this season, had knocked off the powerful Trojans (23-5) and their strong senior class led by Seager and Smith.
There are no tears in baseball, but Northwest coach Joe Hubbard looked like he wanted to break that rule.
“Our guys are really hurting, but when you hurt that much, it means you’re a winner,” Hubbard said. “We played well. The effort was there, the intensity was there, and Weston was great, but it didn’t happen for us. That’s just how this game is. Baseball can break your heart.”
Laws’ shutout was the 11th by Carson hurlers this season, but the Cougars (19-9) rarely scare anyone offensively.
“Scrap for a run or two and then play solid defense,” Carson shortstop Josh Martin said. “That’s what we try to do, and Colton is pitching with a ton of confidence.”
Carson scored early.
Dylan Carpenter led off the game with a single and moved to second when Pressley bounced out on a hit-and-run.
Smith made very few mistakes, but then he made one to Martin. The pitch that Martin drilled to left to score Carpenter on a close play was so hittable Martin thought he’d pounced on a high changeup.
“It was actually a slider but it just kind of spun,” said Smith, who will pitch for the Charlotte 49ers. “Martin did what a good hitter is supposed to do. He hit it hard.”
When Carpenter singled and Pressley doubled to start the third, Carson had a chance to bust it open, but after Smith escaped that jam, he was lights out. Carson hitters went down helplessly 1-2-3 in the fourth, fifth and seventh. Smith finished with eight strikeouts and just one walk.
“We ran into a hot team,” Smith said. “Their pitcher kept us off-balance most of the time and their defense just took control out there.”
Northwest seemed on the verge of scoring every inning.
The Trojans stranded two men in the first, and Carson’s freshman first baseman Heath Mitchem threw home to nail a runner at the plate in the second.
“Everyone was yelling 4, and Heath made a great throw and Bryson made a great tag,” Laws said. “If he doesn’t make that play, we’re probably gonna be here all night.”
Bigham’s leadoff double was wasted in the third. Two Trojans died on the bases in the fourth when Laws knocked down a rocket up the middle. In the fifth, Goodman rapped a double-play ball right at second baseman Chase Johnson with two on.
“You miss an opportunity here and you miss one there, and you start running out of innings,” Hubbard said. “It would be easy to say we didn’t hit, but Carson’s pitcher deserves all the credit. When he had to make a pitch, he did it.”
Pressley’s best catch of all came in the sixth. Then Laws took over the seventh.
“I can’t say enough about Laws — he was awesome,” Cauble said. “But there were two great pitching performances tonight. We were very lucky to scratch that run in the first. Neither pitcher deserved to lose that game.”
Carson is in the third round for the first time but can’t celebrate long. The Cougars play at Weddington (22-6) tonight. Dillon Atwell, another sophomore, is the probable pitcher.