Prep Baseball Playoffs: Weddington 2, Carson 1
By David Shaw
WEDDINGTON — Midnight has struck for the Cinderella Carson baseball team.
The Cougars, as we have come to know them these past few weeks, ceased to exist Friday night, when they were ushered out of the 3A state playoffs by host Weddington.
“Everybody feels hurt right now,” coach Chris Cauble said after Carson suffered a 2-1 third-round loss. “It’s been a great run these last three weeks. I think we were 8-8 at one time. Our pitching and defense has been stellar. Even tonight, we pitched it well and played great defense. It just wasn’t enough.”
Carson (19-10) finished its post-season magical history tour with the potential tying run on base and reliable hitter Connor Bridges in the batter’s box. When he became winning pitcher Alex Bostic’s 12th strikeout victim, the Cougars’ remarkable season was over.
“We made a lot of history this year,” said Bridges, the team’s junior third-baseman. “We know what it takes to win a conference championship. We know what it means to go past the second round. We know how all that feels — and it’s something to grow on.”
The game was decided with one swing. Weddington catcher Andrew Knight — a Catawba signee — blistered a one-out, two-run home run in bottom of the sixth against right-hander Dillon Atwell, ending Carson’s streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings. With teammate Daniel Calabretta aboard and Carson ahead 1-0, Knight yanked a 1-2 fastball that was low and away over the left-field fence.
“Even that was a great pitch,” said CHS catcher Bryson Prugh. “Dillon hit his spot. The kid just went down and got it.”
Knight said he felt a sense of desperation as he dug in for the third time against Atwell. “Going up to the plate, I thought this could be my last at-bat in high school,” he said. “I was looking for a fastball, just trying to keep it simple and be short to the ball. I was able to get the head there.”
It was the only blemish against Atwell, a cunning sophomore who allowed three hits in 52/3 innings and lost for only the second time in nine decisions. He finished his first varsity season with a dazzling 1.13 ERA. Unfortunately he was outpitched by Bostic, a 6-foot-3 junior southpaw who has verbally committed to Clemson.
“He’s got a little velo,” winning coach Travis Poole said after Weddington (23-6) earned a fourth-round match against South Rowan on Tuesday. “You don’t get many lefties bringing it 87 and 88 (miles per hour), making you change your eye level. When you do, you’ve got something pretty special.”
Bostic (10-0) delivered 103 pitches in a complete-game four-hitter. He consistently worked ahead in the count and struck out seven of Carson’s last eight batters — moving his pitches around the strike zone like chess pieces on a board.
The Cougars tagged Bostic for an unearned run in the top of the second inning. Colton Laws reached on a leadoff error, took second on a passed ball and third on Greg Tonnesen’s sac bunt. Then Bridges executed a perfect one-out squeeze bunt, dropping a 2-1 pitch toward the right side.
“He threw it up and out, just what I was expecting,” Bridges said. “I threw the bat out there one-handed and luckily got it down.”
There were other shining moments for the Cougars. In the last of the second senior infielder Chase Johnson knocked down a grounder that headed for center field, sprang to his feet and gunned down a Weddington runner at the plate. “It was a big momentum-changer at the time,” he said.
Later Prugh nailed a baserunner diving back into third base, ending the last of the fifth and keeping Carson’s hopes alive.
In the end, the Cougars all agreed the climb was worth the fall. “This definitely hurts,” Prugh said afterward. “We were hoping to make it further, but that’s just how it goes some days. We’ve won games like this. This time they pulled it out.”