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Cougars hold off comeback, top Northwest Cabarrus

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

KANNAPOLIS — This was a reminder that not all victories will come handily for Carson’s baseball team.

Monday night’s 7-6 win against Northwest Cabarrus in the F&M Bank Classic is one the Cougars will speak about in whispers, not screams.

“Sometimes you need a wakeup call to get you back moving in the right direction,” coach Chris Cauble said at Intimidators Stadium, moments after Carson (19-2) won its ninth straight and earned a berth in tonight’s semifinal round. “That’s what we’re hoping.”

Carson’s triumph wasn’t secured until first-baseman Logan Rogers made a diving stop with two away in the seventh inning, then underhanded the ball to relief pitcher Ryan Street covering to end the game.

“Baseball is a game of inches,” said catcher Garrett Alewine. “A ball hit a little to the left or a little to the right can have a huge impact on the outcome.”

Click here to view more photos from Monday’s game.

Each team enjoyed a six-run inning. Carson took a 7-0 lead in the last of the fifth when it sent 10 men to the plate and coupled four hits with three walks, two wild pitches and a Dylan Driver stolen base. Northwest (12-8) countered with six runs — four of them unearned — against winning pitcher Cole Hales and Street in the top of the sixth. The Cougars made three infield errors in the inning, while Hales lost his command and surrendered two hits, two walks and a hit batsman. Street fanned Northwest’s Caden Parker with two runners aboard to finally extinguish the rally.

“Cauble said it was important to keep adding on runs when we could,” said Carson senior Luke Barringer. “You never know when you’re going to need them. If we hadn’t done that, we probably wouldn’t have won.”

Hales improved to 7-1, largely because he deftly eased out of bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth innings. Carson staked him to a 1-0 lead against right-hander Michael Gracer in the last of the second, when Zeb Burns scored on Driver’s two-out double down the left field line. Hales, a senior right-hander, pitched shutout ball until the sixth.

“The (strike) zone was consistently tight,” he said. “The (plate umpire) forced me to throw pitches over the plate, which I hate to do. That’s right where their bats were.”

The loudest swings were delivered by Sam Walker — who’s double into the right-field corner plated Northwest’s first run — pinch-hitter Josh Hudson, who produced the Trojans’ last two runs on a fielder’s choice.

“Cole wasn’t locked in like he has been in past games,” Cauble said. “He was being distracted by some fans and by having his dad (jayvee coach Rob Hales) in the dugout. He usually just focuses on what he’s doing, but he let other people get to him tonight.”

Hales allowed seven hits and finished with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. He also punched a hit-and-run base hit into right field and scored in a run in Carson’s six-run inning. “We didn’t do it by hitting home runs or doubles,” he said. “We did it by being scrappy.”

Driver opened the fifth with a walk, promptly stole second and scored when pinch-hitter Jake Harris steered a sharp, groundball single into center. Barringer’s RBI-double into the left-field corner made it 3-0. Another run crossed on a wild pitch by reliever Michael Specht and two others came home when Burns served a single into left field for a 6-0 edge. Carson’s final run scored on another wild pitch.

It nearly went for naught as Northwest stormed back an inning later. Ben Galvin was the potential tying run leading off first base when Rogers denied Cole Pletcher with his game-ending grab-and-flip.

“We’ve played great defense all year,” Cauble said after Carson’s four-miscue effort. “That’s why you’ve got to add runs every chance you get. That way, if you do have an inning like that, you’re still up. We’re moving past the three errors in one inning because we still won.”

Even if it wasn’t something to shout about.

“A win’s a win,” said Cole. “We get to play another day. That’s all that matters.”

NOTES: Gracer (5-2) entered the game with a 0.46 ERA, but was charged with five earned runs in four-plus innings. … Carson meets Piedmont (9-13) in tonight’s semifinal. The Panthers have won three of their last four games, including a 7-1 decision against A.L. Brown in Monday’s opening round. … Cauble said senior right-hander Deacon Wike (5-1, 0.97 ERA) will start for the Cougars. … Hales has 67 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings pitched. Barringer leads the team with 25 RBIs and 15 extra-base hits.

NW Cabarrus     000  006  0 — 6  7  0

Carson                 010  060  x — 7  6  4

WP — Hales (7-1). LP — Gracer (5-2). Save — Street (1).

Leading hitters — NW Cabarrus: Aigner 3-for-3; Grace 2-for-3, double, RBI. Carson: Burns 1-for-3, 2 runs, 2 RBI; Harris 1-for-1, RBI; Driver 1-for-2, double, RBI, SB.

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