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Carson edges A.C. Reynolds, 2-1, advances to third round

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Carson’s baseball team played another round of Rock-Paper-Scissors to see who gets to play the hero on Friday night.

This time it was junior infielder Zeb Burns who delivered the decisive hit as the Cougars edged visiting A.C. Reynolds, 2-1, in the second round of the 3A state playoffs.

“It was my time,” Burns said after top-seeded Carson (25-2) earned a berth in Tuesday’s third round against Southwest Guilford. “Last game it was Logan Rogers. The one before it was Luke Barringer and Cole Hales. It’ll be someone else’s turn next time.”

Carson has won four straight games and 14 of its last 15, largely because head coach Chris Cauble has so many weapons on his bench. Burns, a .359 hitter who bats fifth, served a run-scoring single into left-center field with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning — making a winning pitcher of long-limbed right-hander Deacon Wike.

“Zeb is one of the guys we want at the plate in big situations,” Cauble said. “One-through-nine, everybody’s come up big at some point during the season. Everybody’s not hitting for a high batting average, but it’s somebody different every night.”

Burns struggled in his first two appearances against right-hander Parker Kanupp, a five-game winner with a sub-2.00 ERA coming in. He stranded three baserunners when he looked at a called third strike in the last of the first, though the Cougars took a 1-0 lead when teammate Jake Harris was hit by a pitch with two away. Then in third, with runners at the corners and nobody out, he harmlessly fouled out to third-baseman Dane Frellick.

“There was a lot on my shoulders the next time up,” said Burns, who punched a 1-2 fastball over the infield. “With two outs and two strikes, I was just trying to put the ball in play. I was thinking fastball all the way because (Kanupp) hadn’t thrown me one all night and didn’t throw many in the game.”

Barringer, who had drawn a one-out walk, scored his second run of the game. “Both of their runs were scored by guys who walked,” said first-year Reynolds coach David Williams. “We gave up too many free baserunners.”

Williams described Burns’ game-winning hit as a near-miss. “It was a pitch that caught just enough of the strike zone,” he said. “That’s gonna score runs all night. Give the hitter credit. Big teams make big plays in big situations.”

Make sure Wike’s name is on that list. The East Rowan transfer allowed one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings and won his eighth decision. He reached his pitch-count threshold after fanning Blake Stotesbury and Jalen Crowder to open the top of seventh.

“I was able to locate and get a lot of called strikes,” Wike said, moments after retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced. “So much has to do with Garrett (Alewine) behind the plate. He’s got every tool you could ask for. He blocks everything and can frame pitches for the umpire. It’s great to have him back there.”

Alewine, Carson’s durable senior catcher, went 2-for-3 and helped Wike through some precarious moments. Reynolds put its first two batters aboard in the top of the first before Rogers charged from first base to glove Alex Flinn’s foul bunt attempt. Then cleanup hitter Brandon Snyder bounced into an inning-ending double play.

“It took a little time, but (Wike) got into a nice rhythm,” Alewine said. “I think he found himself. In a way, he seemed more relaxed than composed. But it all goes back to him locating very well.”

Wike said the double play “got me out of a lot of trouble and swung the momentum early.” An inning later, with a 1-0 lead in his back pocket, he sailed into another squall. Reynolds put two runners on with one down — but failed to capitalize when Barringer ran down Frellick’s line drive to the gap in left-center and Wike whiffed Stotesbury on a sweeping, 2-2 curveball off the outside edge.

Reynolds tied the score in the top of the fifth, when Kanupp and Frellick coaxed walks and Stotesbury reached on a bunt single. Cooper Ingle’s one-out flare single to right plated the run. That set the stage for Burns and Wike to shine.

“It’s probably the biggest game Wike’s pitched in to date,” said Cauble. “Ever since that game at East (5-3 loss on March 29), he’s been money every time he’s pitched. Tonight, he came out and did beyond what I thought he’d do. That was an awesome pitching performance by Deacon.”

It took a spectacular two-pitch relief effort by Aaron Misenheimer to secure Carson’s win. With the potential tying run on second and two out in the Reynolds seventh, the junior fireman relieved Rogers and fired a pair of called strikes past Flinn to end it.

“We had the right guys in the right spots,” Alewine concluded. “At the end of the day, it’s a team win and we’re in the third round.”

NOTES: Wike’s ERA dipped to 1.47. He struck out seven and walked three and threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 28 batters. … Barringer leads the team with 32 runs scored. Burns now has 20 RBIs, second on the team. … Eighth-seeded Southwest Guilford (20-7) advanced with a 5-3 second-round win against T.C. Roberson. The Cowboys have won six of their last seven games.

A.C. Reynolds     000  010  0 — 1   6   1

Carson                  100  010  x — 2   5   0

WP — Wike (8-1). LP — Kanupp (5-2). Save — Misenheimer (1).

Leading hitters — A.C. Reynolds: Ingle 2-for-3, RBI; Kanupp 1-for-1, double, run scored. Carson: Alewine 2-for-3; Burns 1-for-3, RBI; Barringer 2 runs scored.

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