Prep Baseball Playoffs: South Rowan 8, Hickory Ridge 2

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2012

By Mike London
HARRISBURG — There’s no home-field advantage at Hickory Ridge where one of the oddest scenes in baseball history occurred on Friday night.
South Rowan beat the Ragin’ Bulls 8-2 in a 3A third-round matchup with the aid of a bizarre play that was part super and part blooper.
“The strangest home run of my life,” said South’s Bubba McLaughlin. “Also the best home run of my life — and it didn’t even go out.”
South led 2-1 and the bases were loaded in the sixth when McLaughlin slammed a drive to deep left field. HR’s Nick Sills charged to the fence, but suddenly he was pinned down by the fence, and Raiders were circling the bases.
Sills, his leg hopelessly trapped, looked like a guy sinking in quicksand, and there was nothing he could do. The ball lay there on the ground just out of his reach.
“I’ve never seen an outfielder get stuck under a fence like that,” amazed Hickory Ridge coach Branden Knapp said. “A two-run hit became a four-run hit.”
Dylan Goodman scored. Dillon Parker scored. Jonnie Lefebvre scored. McLaughlin chugged home behind them, as South fans went crazy.
No one made an error. It was just plain bad luck on the part of Hickory Ridge, so McLaughlin had to be credited with a grand slam.
“I’ll take it,” McLaughlin said cheerfully.
After 2-1 turned into 6-1 in an awful hurry, South (18-10) owned its deepest playoff run since 1980. South will play next at Weddington (23-6).
Credit South starter Matt Miller with a stout effort.
“Matt’s pitching and some good defense kept us in it until we could get something going offensively,” South coach Thad Chrismon said.
Miller limited a team that’s powerful in the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup to a single unearned run in his five innings.
“I’ve been struggling with my shoulder blade,” said Miller, who evened his record at 5-5. “I just went out there to fight for the team because I knew I had a whole bunch of guys fighting behind me.”
South’s defense was strong. Second baseman Eric Goldston made a leaping catch. Catcher Eric Tyler threw out a basestealer and picked off a runner. Third baseman Dillon Parker made a good play to end the fifth. Left fielder Tyler Fuller made a marvelous snag of a slicing liner to get Miller out of a real mess in the second.
“A game-changer,” Miller said. “If that ball drops, they score a couple, and it’s going to be tough to come back.”
Losing pitcher Rylan Mikeska dazzled South with breaking balls and took a one-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the sixth. But that’s when Parker Hubbard’s single on a tough breaking ball that was dipping toward his ankles ignited a seven-run inning.
After a wild pitch, Miller, Goodman and Parker made three straight good bunts.
“I’ve never seen a team bunt that much,” Knapp said. “But they executed well and we didn’t make the plays.”
Hubbard scored the tying run on Goodman’s bunt, and the Ragin’ Bulls (16-12) didn’t get an out on any of the three.
“We’re committed to the short game,” Chrismon said. “The bunts were there for us, and guys just kept going up there and doing a really nice job. It was good to see that.”
A clean hit up the middle by Lefebvre gave South a 2-1 lead, and McLaughlin’s fateful at-bat followed.
“I wasn’t going to take another first-pitch curveball for a strike,” McLaughlin said. “He threw a curve inside and I put a good swing on it.”
So good that he’ll never forget it.
Austin Holbrook pitched the last two innings for South.
Several balls were hit hard, but Holbrook closed it out.