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High school playoffs: A look at Round 3

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — Round 3 of the state playoffs is where things get serious.

Dreams of state championships are no longer just idle chatter. They’ve moved a lot closer to reality.

Every team that’s left is good. Every coach has said that all week, and they’re all right. Even if you earned a No. 5 seed in a 32-team bracket, you can still be on the road in Round 3. That’s the case for Davie County baseball tonight.

Carson baseball and West Rowan softball remain at home for this round. Lofty seeds are rewards for steady seasons and conference championships.

As a No. 1 seed, Carson baseball will be at home as long as it wins.

As a No. 3 seed, even if it wins tonight, this is the last guaranteed home game for a West Rowan softball senior class that has won a lot of games.

The other Rowan team that’s still playing is Carson softball, a No. 13 seed. It’s not a complete surprise. Carson has experienced an up-and-down spring, but this was a Final Four team in 3A in 2018 and most of those players are still on hand.

When you’re a surviving 13 seed, it usually means you’ve already won a playoff road game. Carson won at No. 4 seed Crest last Thursday. Carson will be back on the road again tonight, a long journey to the mountains to Weaverville — about 10 miles south of Mars Hill — to play No. 5 seed North Buncombe.

Also still alive in the 3A softball playoffs is A.L. Brown, a No. 10 seed.

The Wonders have won a road game at Southwest Guilford and are way ahead of schedule. This is an extremely young team, with no seniors and eight freshmen on a 14-player roster.

3A  baseball: (8) SW Guilford at (1) Carson, 7 p.m.

Cole Hales will be back on the mound tonight for the Cougars. He’s 9-1 on the stat sheet, but that loss was on opening day at Davie, and that game was recently forfeited to Carson. Hales has a 1.23 ERA and has struck out 81 batters.

In Carson history, only two pitchers — Dillon Atwell (2013) and Owen White (2018) have won 10 games in a season.

With a boost from that Davie forfeit, Carson (25-2) has broken the school record for victories in a season. The 2013 team went 24-4, while the 2018 Cougars were 24-6.

Carson has only scored four runs in two playoff games, but still managed to keep advancing.

Carson normally has a good offense that averages 6.4 runs per game, but what the Cougars are best at is preventing runs. They allow 2.8 per game.

The key to Carson’s offense is senior left fielder Luke Barringer, a Catawba signee. While his batting average has slipped a bit to .325, his run production — 32 runs scored, 30 RBIs — has been stellar all season. He has 18 extra-base hits. The next-best extra-base total for Carson is first baseman Logan Rogers’ eight.

Zeb Burns, a junior who is batting .358 and plays shortstop, had the key hit in the second-round win against A.C. Reynolds.

Southwest Guilford (20-7) has almost identical offensive numbers to Carson — the same team batting average (.275) and the same homer total (7).

Southwest Guilford’s wins are divided among several good hurlers, but Jacob Shafer, a junior right-hander who stands 6-foot-7, appears to be the ace of the staff. He’s 6-1 with 84 strikeouts. He throws 85 mph and has a good curveball.

Offensively, Southwest Guilford first baseman Isaiah Hairston leads the team in most categories, but a lot of his damage came early. Center fielder Jaxson Rauber has been the Cowboys’ hottest hitter recently.

4A baseball: (5) Davie County at (4) South Caldwell, 6:30 p.m.

Davie (16-9, that’s with six non-conference forfeits) heads to the Hudson/Granite Falls area to play one of the state’s traditional powers. South Caldwell (21-5) is the school that produced San Francisco Giants hurler Madison Bumgarner.

South Caldwell has two excellent senior pitchers in Isaac Bush (7-2, 96 strikeouts) and Clay Canale (8-2, 70 strikeouts) and is allowing just 2.2 runs per game.

Canale pitched a 4-2 win against Porter Ridge in the second round. That was on Thursday, so either of those aces would be available tonight.

Like South Caldwell, Davie enjoyed a first-round bye.

Then Davie handled Grimsley in the second round, 9-2.

Davie has a solid offense. Garrett Chandler (.349. 27 runs scored) and Anthony Azar (.372, 24 runs) have been quality table-setters for run-producers Aaron Williams (.370, 22 RBIs) and Joe Johnson (.358, 23 RBIs).

Unbeaten Carson Whisenhunt is Davie’s hard-throwing ace, although he’s walked 12 batters in his last seven innings.

3A softball: (11) Parkwood at (3) West Rowan, 6 p.m.

Parkwood already has won a playoff road game, wiping out sixth-seeded defending champ Alexander Central in the second round, 14-1.

Parkwood (14-6) is stronger than its record indicates. Parkwood played in a challenging softball league — the Southern Carolina — that included top-seeded Marvin Ridge, Charlotte Catholic and Piedmont.

West (22-3) is solid offensively, defensively and in the circle.

Senior shortstop Mary Sobataka, who is headed to Coastal Carolina, is having a great finish to her career. She’s homered in four of West’s last five games.

Sophomore DP Taylor Walton is batting over .500, while sophomore left fielder KK Dowling is hitting over .450.

Junior pitcher Whitley Arnott (20-3) has been dominant, with more than 200 strikeouts. In the Falcons’ second-round win against Rockingham County, she had 16 strikeouts and no walks. Arnott has also provided some power in the bottom part of West’s lineup.

3A softball: (13) Carson at (5) North Buncombe, 6 p.m.

North Buncombe was one of the teams Carson clobbered (9-2) during last season’s playoff run. That game also was a third-round matchup, although it was played in China Grove.

Carson started this season 2-3. There have been two losses to East Rowan and a 10-run loss to Central Cabarrus, but the Cougars also gave West Rowan one of its three losses and beat a Crest team on Thursday that hadn’t lost since March 2.

What that means is that while Carson has been hard to figure out, when it plays well, it can beat anybody.

Katie Jewell (12-6) is the biggest key for the Cougars. She’s pitched two of her best games in the playoffs, and Carson was able to hold off Asheboro, 3-2, and Crest, 2-1.

Offensively, Kary Hales has gotten really hot. In Carson’s last six games, she’s 12-for-18 with three homers and 11 RBIs. The only game in that stretch in which Hales was shut down was a 2-1 loss to East Rowan in the NPC tournament semifinals. Obviously, she’s critical to Carson’s offense.

Hales, a sophomore infielder, leads Carson with 26 RBIs and is batting .432. Jewell has 20 RBIs, while first baseman Liza Simmerson has 19. DP Kaitlyn Honeycutt is only 2-for-10 in the postseason, but is still batting a team-leading .453 for the season.

3A softball: (10) A.L. Brown at (2) Central Cabarrus, 6 p.m.

The South Piedmont Conference rivals already have played four times. SPC teams meet three times in conference play, and the teams also squared off in the championship game of the SPC tournament. Central (22-3) has won three of the four meetings.

Central has a dominant freshman pitcher in Brantleigh Parrott, while Catawba signee Riley Tucker leads a powerful offense.

A.L. Brown lost  to East Rowan and three times to Central, and that’s all the setbacks. The Wonders won against Carson in the regular season and have thumped their two playoff opponents, 8-0 and 8-1 behind sophomore pitcher Tali Hagler. Junior Lauren Ritchie is a key hitter.

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