Prep baseball: Showdown for Carson baseball at Marvin Ridge

Published 1:15 am Tuesday, May 15, 2018

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — In senior Owen White, Carson has the greatest baseball player in school history.

There’s not much doubt about that statement. There’s not really any opposing argument that can be made, as White is the school’s best hitter ever … and best pitcher ever.

Offensively, he owns the school records for hits (137), runs scored (91), RBIs (80) and doubles (40) and he’s among the all-time leaders in homers, triples — and even stolen bases. On the mound, where he does his sharpest work, he holds the Carson records for wins (31) and strikeouts (349). Yes, 349.

White was amazingly tough when he was a varsity freshman, and he’s gotten better every year. He’s a solid, dependable shortstop, but his future definitely is on the bump. The last two seasons, he’s allowed five earned runs. That’s right, five.

This season, he’s faced 213 batters. He’s walked 15 and allowed 24 hits, while striking out 92.

White is a 6-foot-3 and his frame has gradually matured from skinny to sturdy. Now he throws his fastball 93 to 95 mph. He also has a slider, a curveball and a changeup that pro scouts rate as excellent pitches, and in showcase ball, on pressure-packed stages far from home, White has proven he can handle some of the best high school hitters in the country. He’s signed with South Carolina, but it’s looking less likely every day that he’ll ever make it to a classroom in Columbia.

White projects as a second-round MLB draft pick the first week of June, perhaps even higher or maybe a bit lower. The point is when you have a player this special, a player who is arguably the state’s best, you’d like to get a state championship out of it, and coach Chris Cauble and the fifth-seeded Carson Cougars (23-5) still have a chance to do that.

It won’t be easy. 3A baseball is a very hard, treacherous, one-and-done road. Rowan County teams have been frustrated every year since 2010 when East Rowan won it all.

Carson plays in a third-round game tonight at 7 p.m. at fourth-seeded Marvin Ridge (22-5). Since it opened in 2007 in Union County to ease overcrowding at Weddington High, the blue-and-orange Marvin Ridge Mavericks have crushed more than their fair share of Rowan County dreams in a wide variety of sports.

Marvin Ridge is a large, well-to-do school in Waxhaw with a 99 percent graduation rate. It’s a borderline 4A school with 600 more students than West Rowan and East Rowan have and about 300 more than Carson, by far, the largest Rowan school.

The Mavericks are good in about everything athletically. Their softball team just eliminated West Rowan in the second round of the 3A playoffs. The Marvin Ridge golfers recently finished ahead of East Rowan in the 3A State Championships.

But what Marvin Ridge is best in is baseball.

Coach Mark Mennitt has built a powerhouse program. Marvin Ridge knocked West Rowan out of the 2015 playoffs in an epic fourth-round game on its way to winning the state championship. In 2016, Marvin Ridge beat Carson in a wild second round on its way to repeating as state champion. In 2017, Marvin Ridge demolished East Rowan in the second round of the playoffs and made it all the way to the Western championship series before losing to Crest.

The last time a Rowan baseball team had success against Marvin Ridge, it was South Rowan. That was in 2014. Burke Fulcher and Bo Corriher got it done on the mound, and the Raiders scored twice in the seventh and won at Marvin Ridge, 5-3, in the second round.

Carson has plenty of history with Marvin Ridge.

The first playoff win in Carson baseball history came at Marvin Ridge in the first round in 2010. That was an extra-inning game that was tied 2-all after regulation. Carson scored four times in the top of the eighth, then held off the Mavericks in the bottom half to prevail, 6-4. Carson starting pitcher Jesse Park was nearly maimed by a line drive but kept pitching and lasted six innings. Ethan Free eventually got the win. Joseph Basinger hit a big home run.

In 2016, the schools met again at Marvin Ridge. Carson lost an emotional struggle, 3-2. White was on the mound for that one, and the Mavericks scored three runs in the first two innings before he settled in. White walked four and committed a balk. There was a controversial home-plate collision and the fiery Cauble was red-faced and raging most of the night. He was confined to the dugout. Then he was tossed.

Knowing White, who will be on the mound tonight, and knowing Cauble, they’re not unhappy about getting another shot at Marvin Ridge. Marvin Ridge is obviously good and it’s a long ride to Waxhaw, but they’re not displeased about making this journey.

This may be White’s last game, the swan song before he rides off into the sunset, but this also could be the defining moment of a storied high school career. This could be his 10th win of the season and it could propel Carson all the way.

WSAT 1280 will be broadcasting the action, starting at 6:40 p.m, so a lot of people back in Rowan County will be able to follow every pitch.

While Cauble has taken Carson to the playoffs 11 of the 12 years the school has been open, this is only the third time the Cougars have been in the the third round.

In 2012, Carson lost a third-round heartbreaker to Marvin Ridge’s neighbor and rival Weddington. The Cougars led 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth, but the Warriors got a huge homer and won, 2-1.

In 2014, Carson won in the third round and was at home for the fourth against Piedmont, another Union County school. That was a strange game. Carson played errorless ball and struck out only two times, but still lost, 4-0.

All-time in the playoffs, Carson is a modest 13-10.

Cauble, White and all the Cougars would like to do something about that tonight. A win would tie the school record for victories in a season (24) set in 2013 and matched in 2014.