Prep Baseball: East loses in extra innings

Published 12:26 am Saturday, March 12, 2016

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — Friday night ended with a five-way tie for first place in the South Piedmont Conference baseball race.
East Rowan, Hickory Ridge, South Rowan, West Rowan and Carson all are 3-1 in a dog-eat-dog league.
Hickory Ridge’s 4-3, eight-inning win against previously unbeaten East Rowan at Staton Field had a lot to do with that five-team pileup, and sophomore catcher Jeremiah Boyd had a lot to do with the Ragin’ Bulls’ latest victory.
Boyd was awesome defensively behind the plate, smashed three hits, and finally closed things out on the mound in the bottom of the eighth.
“Their catcher is a stud, and he played an amazing ballgame,” East Rowan coach Brian Hightower said. “He must have blocked 15 balls in the dirt.”
Hickory Ridge found a few more holes at the plate and made a few more plays in the field.
Hickory Ridge (5-1 overall) scored the winning run on a two-out misplay in the eighth by East’s standout shortstop Ike Freeman. Freeman was ranging toward the hole with two men on and had a routine force play at third when the ball glanced off his glove and then his foot.
That was the thin margin of victory.
“It’s kind of amazing how even this league is, top to bottom,” Hickory Ridge coach Branden Knapp said. “We had one bad defensive inning against Concord and we lose 9-1, but we’ve been able to win the rest of them. This was a heck of a win for us because you’re playing in a college atmosphere when you come to East Rowan. The crowd got a little excited, but that’s what makes it fun.”
The crowd did get agitated — like a crowd cheering and jeering Roman gladiators — after Freeman slid home with an apparent run in the third inning on what would’ve been a wild pitch. Freeman was standing up when he was tagged but was ruled out. Freeman went a little crazy. Hightower went a lot crazy. The call stood, and it hurt the home team.
It was all Hickory Ridge early. Greg Waslo and Boyd knocked in runs in the first, and the Bulls led 2-0 behind crafty right-hander John-Riley Hathcock.
“He was catching us off guard with his curveball,” East’s Jordan Wise said. “But then we adjusted and we hammered a lot of balls. Unfortunately, their fielders were always there.”
Knapp said that was the plan.
“We’re not going to overpower anyone on the mound,” he said. “We tell our pitchers to fill up the zone and we try to play great defense.”
East had a chance to get out of a jam in the second inning with a double play, but second baseman Tanner File’s throw to first sailed away, and the Bulls tacked on a run for 3-0 lead.
East (3-1 overall) got one run back in the third when Freeman’s blistering, two-out triple scored File.
East starting pitcher Hayden Setzer’s night ended early when he walked the leadoff man in the fourth.
“Hayden just didn’t have what he had last week against Carson,” Hightower said. “But then we go to Jordan (Wise) and he does a great job.”
Wise got an out on the first pitch he threw and got a double-play grounder moments later. Momentum turned.
But the Mustangs weren’t lucky. Both Jackson Justus and Wise lined out hard in the fourth inning.
There was temporary chaos in the fifth when John Owen skied a popup in the infield that eluded Boyd and Hathcock and fell to the ground 10 feet from the plate, near the first-base line. With two men out, everyone was running and two Mustangs charged across the plate, as the crowd roard. But the ball was correctly ruled foul. While it landed in fair territory, none of the Bulls touched it before it trickled into foul ground.
“Nobody came close to touching it,” Knapp said.
Moments after his exciting foul ball, Owen gave one a ride to right field, but Alex Cirino ran it down to end the inning.
Then East got even in the sixth, scoring two runs on solid hits by Freeman, Justus and Wise. Wise’s bullet to right field made it 3-3, and then Will Brown lined out to end the inning.
Colby Myrick pitched the seventh and eighth for East and threw well before giving up an unearned run. Boyd’s third single and a hit batsman preceded the error by Freeman that gave the Bulls the lead.
Boyd told Knapp he wanted the ball for the bottom of the eighth, and Knapp gave it to him, even though Boyd’s pitching experience is limited.
Owen greeted Boyd with another laser, but Waslo made a diving catch in center field. That catch gave Boyd the confidence to finish off the Mustangs.
“Waslo’s catch kind of calmed me down and helped me get those last outs,” Boyd said. “It was a tough game, but we knocked a lot of big base hits and made great plays when he had to.”
It was a tough one for the Mustangs to lose, but they might be in the race to stay.
“We battled, but as much as I liked how we battled, we just made too many errors tonight,” Hightower said. “We didn’t deserve to win this one, but it’s a long season.”

Hickory Ridge 210 000 01 — 4 6 2
East Rowan 001 002 00 — 3 6 4
W — Hathcock (2-0). L — Myrick (0-1). S — Boyd (1).