Junior Legion Baseball: Hales leads Carson to state tournament with complete game
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Right-hander Cole Hales stayed undefeated for the summer and pushed Carson into the state tournament with another complete game.
Hales, who also won the decisive game in Carson’s quarterfinal series against Davidson County, was in control on the mound as Carson eliminated Rowan County, 6-1, from the Junior American Legion playoffs on Thursday night at the Carson diamond.
“We couldn’t have asked for more than what Cole gave us,” Carson catcher Garrett Alewine said. “He pitched an amazing game. He threw strikes, he hit spots, and when he needed to throw one in the dirt, he was able to do that too.”
Carson (26-6) took the best-of-three games Area III semifinal series, 2-1, bouncing back from a seven-error, extra-inning loss to Rowan County at Staton Field on Wednesday.
“We had six throwing errors in that one,” Carson coach Chris Cauble said. “But we were solid defensively tonight.”
Next for Carson is the Area III championship series against Concord. Carson won a post-game coin flip for home-field advantage. Game 1 will be played tonight at Concord’s home field at Mount Pleasant High. Game 2 of the series (and Game 3 if needed) will be at Carson. The teams will be battling for a trophy and a seed. Both have qualified to play in the state tournament that will be held in Swansboro.
Carson got a lot of clutch hits, including Luke Barringer’s two-out single in the first inning that allowed Carson to lead all the way. Center fielder Brycen Holshouser went 3-for-3. Right fielder Karson Beacham, “hotter than a depot stove,” as one of his relatives put it, had two more hits.
After a three-run first inning, Carson tacked on two more in the second against Rowan starter Bryson Wagner and reliever McGwire Smith. Beacham and Holshouser drove in the runs with two-out singles.
Then Alewine made it 6-0 in the third when he knocked in Tyler Thompson with a two-out hit.
“We got runs early, we built confidence, and we’ve got a lot of faith in Cole,” Beacham said. “We knew they’d try to come back, but it was going to be hard for them as long as we limited our mistakes.”
Staked to that big lead, Hales threw flurries of pinpoint strikes and maintained a no-hitter for four innings.
“We just didn’t do enough,” Rowan coach Brian Hightower said. “We talked in the third inning about making an adjustment, but we just kept hitting fly balls, and fly balls are easy outs. We didn’t start hitting ground balls and line drives until the fifth.”
Rowan’s first hit came with one out in the fifth when Wayne Mize singled through the left side.
“I knew I had a no-hitter,” Hales said. “They got some hits in the fifth, but there wasn’t any way they were going to get six runs.”
Rowan did get one run in the fifth. Smith kept the inning alive with a two-out single, and leadoff man Chandler Lippard pulled a pitch hard down the left-field line to drive in Mize.
If Rowan (16-8) had any momentum, it disappeared quickly when Hales strolled through a brisk 1-2-3 sixth.
Rowan fought on its seventh-inning at-bats, and Blake White started the inning by lofting a single that dropped safely near the left-field line. Relief pitcher Deacon Wike was the next hitter, and Hales won a long duel. He got Wike to hit a routine fly ball to center on a 3-2 pitch.
“That pitch wasn’t anything special, just a fastball down the middle, but the main thing was not to walk him,” Hales said. “That was a key out, with Lippard coming up next. Lippard is a good hitter.”
Lippard bounced a ground ball to third but and was called safe at first on a close play, and Rowan had two men on with one out.
“Cole did a great job of keeping his composure,” Carson assistant coach Blake Cauble said. “They were squeezing him a little bit in the sixth and seventh, and then we had that tough call at first, but he never lost his poise.”
Hales got the final two outs on ground balls and punched the air with his right fist in a silent celebration. He struck out four and scattered six singles.
“Hales isn’t going to give you any walks, he isn’t going to beat himself, and you have to love the way he competes,” Hightower said.
Chris Cauble saw Carson’s pitching depth as the difference in the series.
“Both teams were running on fumes a little bit from playing back-to-back series, but all of our pitchers threw extremely well,” he said. “We had a little more pitching than Rowan did.”
Over the course of a long season, Carson was the stronger team. The intra-county rivals squared off six times, with Carson winning five and outscoring Rowan County, a club consisting of players from East, North and Salisbury, 43-15.
“We knew Rowan wanted to win this one and we knew they’d bring it,” Alewine said. “But we brought it too.”
Rowan County 000 010 0 — 1 6 1
Carson 321 000 x — 6 10 0
W — Cole Hales. L — Bryson Wagner.
Leading hitters — Rowan: Chandler Lippard 2-for-3. Carson: Brycen Holshouser 3-for-3. Tyler Thompson 2-for-3, 2 runs. Karson Beacham 2-for-4. Luke Barringer 2 RBIs. Hales 2 runs.