Prep baseball: Griffin Myers handcuffs Hibriten in playoff victory

Published 12:19 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Give this Salisbury Hornets baseball team some credit. This is a No. 22 seed that genuinely believes it can win the 2A state championship.

Salisbury pushed through a weather delay behind right-hander Griffin Myers and beat Hibriten, 6-1, with relative ease in Friday’s second-round playoff game at soggy Robertson Stadium.

“We’re going to play as long as we can as hard as we can,” Salisbury senior third baseman Will Taylor vowed. “No one wants this season to end, and a little bit of weather wasn’t going to stop us tonight. We’re already looking forward to practicing again on Monday. We want to win a championship.”

Well, you never know.  Salisbury has beaten Ledford and North Davidson.

“That’s not just two of the best in 2A,” SHS coach Mike Herndon declared. “That’s two of the best in the state.”

The dare-to-dream Hornets (17-10) can take some inspiration from the 23rd-seeded East Rutherford team that won the 2A title just two years ago. The Hornets also have a head coach in Herndon, who steered an underdog Southwest Guilford team to a 2A state championship in 1997.

Salisbury’s 17th victory was meaningful.  The Hornets also won 17 for former coach Scott Maddox in 2015, 2008 and 2006, but they haven’t won more than 17 since 1984 when Tom Sexton was in the pilot’s seat for 21 victories.

The story on Friday was Myers, limited to playing shortstop most of his senior season by a sore elbow. But he won Wednesday’s first-round game at Bandys in relief of ace Jack Fisher. Then Myers came right back and threw a stout complete game in Round 2. Suddenly, Salisbury’s pitching staff is imposing because Myers was their best guy a year ago.

“I’ve tried to work with the elbow all year, and it’s gradually gotten better,” Myers said. “Even with the lightning and long rain delay tonight (with two outs in the top of the first inning),  I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”

He didn’t. He allowed only three hits. He struck out eight. He hit two and walked one.

“In a way, Griffin was amazing because he’s been injured, but at the same time, we fully expected him to do what he did,” catcher Bo Rusher said. “A few sliders got away from him, but for the most part his location was great. He was pounding that outside corner.”

Hibriten southpaw Houston Lawing, a finesse guy who kept the Hornets off-balance with breaking balls, kept the game scoreless through two innings. Then 27th-seeded Hibriten (12-11) got on the board in the top of the third. After being ruled safe on a missed call at third base, Hibriten lead-off man Matthew Walker scored on a wild pitch. Myers bounced a slider. Walker raced home.

That was the key moment in the game. Down 1-0, Salisbury had to move on from that call. Players took it more calmly than outraged fans.

With one out in the bottom of the third, Will Taylor pulled a smash into the left-field corner.

“That was a tough blow when they scored in the third,” Taylor said. “I went to the plate knowing we needed to get that run back. I got ahead in  the count, got a pitch to hit, and I hit it hard. I think their outfielder made a mistake, but all I was worried about was running as hard as I could. I was thinking triple all the way.”

Taylor barreled into third with a slide and was deemed safe on a close play.

“It was bang-bang,” Herndon said with a sigh of relief. “If they’d called Will out, I might have been watching the rest of the game from the bus.”

Freshman lead-off man Vance Honeycutt walked to put two on, and Rusher followed with one of the biggest at-bats of the night.

“He was throwing curveballs, a lot of them.” Rusher said. “He threw me a curve that was a little low, but it was called strike one. Then he threw a curveball I thought was a little inside, and it was called strike two. With an 0-and-2 count, I just had to put it in play somehow. The next pitch was a fastball. It was high and inside, but I got the bat on it.”

It looked like the left-handed swinging Rusher had struck it with a pool stick. There was a lot of spin. The ball meandered slowly, splitting the shortstop and third baseman. Taylor scored, it was 1-all, and that was the last time all night the Hornets felt any pressure.

With two outs in that pivotal bottom of the third, Chandler Lippard got lucky. He’s hit a lot of line drives this season, but this time the cleanup man lofted an ugly, little pop fly that fell just inside the right-field line. He didn’t mind. The ball got mishandled a bit, two Hornets scored, and it was 3-1. A slippery outfield led to another error, and the Hornets put a fourth run on the board before the inning was over. The way Myers was going, it was all but over.

“This is is what we’ve been looking for, waiting for all year,” Herndon said. “Griffin was lights outs. He kept everything down in the zone. He had his breaking ball working. He was making it look pretty easy out there, and we were making the routine plays behind him.”

Salisbury got two insurance runs in the sixth, with the No. 7 and No. 8 hitters, Blaine Shellhorn and Parker Lippard, driving in runs.

It was a solid effort, with all nine starters contributing something. Except for a few base-running blunders, the Hornets didn’t look like a No. 22 seed. They looked like a team that is going to be a tough out. And now they’ll have Fisher (7-2) back on the hill for Round 3,  probably on Tuesday.

Salisbury’s opponent will be No. 3 North Davidson or No, 14 Franklin. Their game was rained out on Saturday.

The Hornets don’t care who they play. They just want to keep playing.

“For sure, we want to win this thing,” Myers said.

Hibriten   001   000   0     — 1    3   5

Salisbury  004  002  x    —  6     9    1

W — Myers (2-0) . L — Lawing (4-5).

Leading hitters — Hibriten: Brad Schmertzler 2-for-2. Salisbury: C. Lippard 2-for-3.