Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — It started out as a walk-a-thon and ended up as a marathon in the opening game of the F&M Bank Baseball Classic Wednesday morning.
The Carson Cougars jumped out to a big lead in the early innings then managed to hold off a couple of spirited challenges by Mount Pleasant. Ultimately, the Cougars survived the nearly three-hour contest, 13-11.
Carson (13-2) was cruising 8-0 after just one and a half innings thanks to seven walks and five base hits. Cougar starter Dillon Atwell was in control although the Tigers did score two unearned runs in the bottom of the second to make it 8-2.
Mount Pleasant (6-6) battled right back into the game in the third with five consecutive hits including doubles by Curtis Whitley and and Blain Hooks. Suddenly four runs were in and the score was 8-6.
“I just kind of lost focus there in the inning,” Atwell noted. “I still have a lot of work to do on my pitching.”
Carson seemed to grab control again in the fourth when it broke out the bats and expanded the lead to 12-6. Singles by Colton Laws, Connor Bridges, K.J. Pressley and Dylan Carpenter plated two runs. Junior John Daugherty then delivered the key blow when he lined a double just inside the right field line for two more runs.
“I was just trying to put it in play and get us some more runs,” Daugherty said.
Lefty Ben Gragg relieved Atwell in the fifth and struck out four of six batters. But then came the bottom of the seventh. Mt. Pleasant used three walks and three singles to quickly cut the lead to 13-11. Hooks had a two run single in the rally and suddenly the drama was building. The Tigers had the potential winning run at the plate with two outs when Gragg got Ryan Ross to look at a called third strike to end the game for the save.
Cougar Coach Chris Cauble was fairly upbeat despite the close call.
“I look at the scoreboard and see 16 hits and you have to be happy with that,” he said. “The stat that bothers me is the four errors because we typically don’t make errors.”
Tiger coach Tommy Small had a much different viewpoint of the game due to all the free passes. “If you walk 11 total and give a team like that 11 extra base runners they are going to beat you,” Small said. “But I was proud of the way we battled back.”
Seven of the walks came in the top of the first off starter Jacob Warner as 12 Cougars went to the plate and six of them scored. As the game unfolded, they would need every single one of those early runs.
The 16-hit Carson attack was led by Pressley, Carpenter, Heath Mitchem, Laws and Bridges with two each while Daughterty drove in three runs. Hooks led the Tigers with two hits and three RBI.
Carson gets the 9 a.m. call again today against NW Cabarrus while Concord plays East Rowan at 4:30 today.