Carson wins third straight NPC baseball tournament title
Cougars roll to another NPC Tournament title
By David Shaw
MOUNT ULLA — If there were any lingering questions about Carson’s baseball team, there shouldn’t be now.
Not after Friday, when the retailored Cougars won their third consecutive conference tournament title with a 7-2 victory against East Rowan.
“The whole year has been a very good ride,” coach Chris Cauble said, at West Rowan High School, where Carson (23-2) added the North Piedmont Conference championship to its regular-season crown. “The kids have bought in. It’s a different kid every night doing stuff. And, if somebody watches us play, they’re not going to say we’re very good. But the bottom line is we found ways to win.”
They found this one in Luke Barringer’s glow-in-the-dark bat. The senior outfielder went 3-for-3 with a cloud-scraping home run, a sixth-inning double and three runs scored.
“Luke’s a special hitter,” said teammate Logan Rogers. “Not a lot of people can do what he can do.”
The victory was actually Carson’s second of the day. It was earlier awarded a forfeit win over Davie County when an administrative/paperwork error reversed a season-opening, 5-1 loss. East (16-10) had its six-game winning streak snapped despite collecting nine hits, including four doubles. Both teams will participate in the 3A state playoffs beginning next week.
“We fought them pretty hard and played a tough game,” said East center-fielder Wayne Mize. “Our approach was to hammer fastballs to the gaps. We did that, but they just came out on top.”
Mize went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks — the same stat line he produced in Wednesday’s 2-1 semifinal win against the host Falcons. He lined a two-out single into center field against winning pitcher Cole Hales in the top of the first inning, then delivered an RBI-double to the left-center gap in the third.
“They brought the energy,” said Hales, the county’s first eight-game winner this season. “I really had to bear down and compete. I didn’t get ahead like I normally do, but still got the outs I needed.”
Hales, a senior right-hander and an uncanny first-pitch-strike specialist, persevered through 4 1/3 innings and yielded two runs on six hits.
“Cole Hales is gonna battle every time he goes out there,” said Cauble. “He wasn’t throwing his curveball for strikes tonight, but he still fought through four-plus innings and won it for us. We had him on a 75-pitch count so he’d be available for the state playoffs.”
Carson staked him to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first against East’s Corbin Durham, a junior right-hander. Hales and Barringer lined singles to center and Rogers legged out an infield hit, loading the bases with none out. Teammates C.P. Pyle — who coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch — and Zeb Burns, who hoisted a sacrifice fly, knocked in runs.
An inning later Carson’s Dylan Drive punched a leadoff single into center. With two away, Barringer jumped on a first-pitch fastball and launched it high and far down the left-field line. His fourth homer of the spring cleared the foreboding wall — all 18-feet, 6-inches of it — and struck the foul pole for a 4-0 Carson lead. It was his second home run of the tournament.
“Right off the bat, I kind of knew it,” Barringer said. “I was just hoping it wouldn’t hook foul. It’s the first one I’ve ever hit off a foul pole.”
Mize’s double trimmed East’s deficit to three runs before Carson scored twice in the last of the fourth — one on a wild pitch from reliever J.D. Basinger and another on Pyle’s bases-loaded, bunt single to the left side. East plated its final run when Avery Shull lined an RBI-single against fireman Aaron Misenheimer in the fifth inning. Hales took over at third base and produced the game’s best defensive play after East put runners at the corners with none out in the top of the sixth. He snared Basinger’s hissing line drive, then extended his arm and tagged the bag to double up East’s Griffin Warden.
“He made a diving catch,” said Cauble, “but then had the baseball awareness and baseball smarts to get up and beat the guy back to third — barely, diving with his glove to touch the bag. It was close, but he was out.”
Hales said he anticipated the play and was prepared. “It was bang-bang,” he said. “I saw it the whole time. It was just a reaction, that’s all.”
Rogers relieved Misenheimer with two runners aboard in the seventh inning and cleaned up the mess, retiring three straight batters. Hales set off the celebration when he drifted across the infield and caught Warden’s towering, game-ending popup near second base.
“Cole made sure the last out was made,” Cauble said. “He wasn’t gonna let someone else drop it.”
NOTES: East reliever Bryson Wagner allowed a sixth-inning run on a wild pitch. He also went 2-for-4 with a double and scored the Mustangs’ first run. … East’s bullpen limited the Cougars to two hits over the last four innings. … From the Little-Things-Mean-A-Lot Department: Carson No. 9 hitter Ryan Street laid down perfectly executed sacrifice bunts in the second and fifth innings. … East has won 11 of its last 14 games and Carson 12-of-13 entering the state playoffs, which begin Tuesday.
East Rowan 001 010 0 — 2 9 2
Carson 220 201 x — 7 7 0
WP — Hales (8-1). LP — Durham (2-2). HR — Carson: Barringer (4).
Leading hitters — East Rowan: Mize 2-for-2, double, RBI; Wagner 2-for-4, double, run. Carson: Barringer 3-for-3, HR, double, 2 RBIs; Pyle 1-for-3, 2 RBIs.
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