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Carson tops Marvin Ridge in Western series Game 1

Cougars take first step toward winning the West

Wayne HInshaw/for the Salisbury Post …
Out, then safe: Carson’s Zeb Burns, right, was tagged out at the plate by Marvin Ridge catcher Jake Machado, left. The base umpire then ruled that Burns was interfered with by the shortstop, so he was then called safe and the run counted, during Tuesday night’s 3A state playoff game in China Grove. Carson won, 6-3.

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Carson’s baseball team spent another evening walking on sunshine Tuesday.

The Cougars inched a step closer to the 3A state championship series by outscoring visiting Marvin Ridge, 6-3, in Game 1 of this best-of-three semifinal series.

“Game 1 is important, especially when you’re playing at home,” coach Chris Cauble said, shortly after top-seeded Carson (28-2) won its seventh straight game and improved to 5-0 in the playoffs. “We were focused in during batting practice. The guys had a good round of infield. We were locked in.”

Game 2 of the series is scheduled Thursday night in Waxhaw, where Marvin Ridge (24-6) has won 11 of 12 decisions.

“We just want to take care of this right now,” winning pitcher Cole Hales said. “One more and we’re there — playing for the state title.”

Losing coach Trey Putman was disappointed after the 10th-seeded Mavericks collected 12 hits — including doubles by Steven Gonzalez and Josh Schwartz — yet had their four-game winning streak snapped.

“The bottom line is we still have to win two games,” he said. “Same situation as when we got here, except we can’t afford to lose. Good thing it’s still a series.”

Carson managed only six hits against senior Tyler Hall, a nine-game winner, and lefty reliever Drew Cognac. “They outhit us, but we mustered just enough to win,” Cauble said. “It doesn’t matter how many hits you get. It’s the quality of those hits — and if you get them with runners on.”

Hales needed 97 pitches to throw a complete game and secure his 11th victory. He surrendered two hits in each of the first six innings, then used three fly outs to escape the seventh. Afterward he credited Carson pitching coach Brett Mulkey for guidance and inspiration.

“They were a really good-hitting team,” Hales said, after fanning three batters and walking two. “Mulkey kept telling me I was hitting my spots. They were just hitting it. He told me to just keep doing what I was doing.”

Carson opened the scoring against Hall, a right-hander with a mid-80s fastball, on a controversial play in the bottom of the second. The Cougars had two runners in scoring position when Garrett Alewine bounced a grounder to Marvin Ridge shortstop Michael Neal. CP Pyle scored easily on the play — and so did teammate Zeb Burns when he collided with Neal in the baseline, prompting an interference call.

“The way it was explained to me is that my shortstop ran into the baserunner,” Putman said. “But if it happens while he’s making a play, it’s not obstruction.”

An erratic throw to first base allowed Burns to score Carson’s second run. Cauble offered his assessment of the odd-looking play.

“Burns and the shortstop ran into each other after he threw it,” he said. “I yelled ‘Interference’ and the umpire immediately put up his arm indicating (Neal) had interfered. That’s the reason I sent him home. Even though they tagged (Burns) out, in the umpire’s opinion he would have made it had he not been interfered with. That was a big run.”

Carson went up 3-0 when Ryan Street’s sac bunt attempt was misplayed and added a fourth run when Hales lined an RBI-single into center field.

The guests responded with a single run in the top of the third and two in the fourth — one on Matt Duggan’s sacrifice fly and another Henry Jackson’s infield hit to the right side. Hales knocked in his second run of the night in the Carson fourth when he drilled a one-out base hit up the middle, providing a 5-3 edge. The Cougars’ final run crossed one batter later when Luke Barringer collected his team-high 35th RBI on a groundout.

Hales took care of the rest, inducing a total of eight groundouts. He got a huge boost from center fielder Pyle in the top of the fifth. With two away and a runner at second base, Marvin Ridge’s Jake Machado smashed a line-drive to single to center. Pyle fielded the ball and fired a one-hop relay to Alewine at the plate that nailed Max Hyman by a step.

“I remember getting to the ball,” Pyle said, “and out of the corner of my eye I saw the coach sending the runner. I knew I had to make a strong throw.”

Alewine said it was “practically a perfect throw,” after Pyle’s first assist of the year. “It was right there.”

So are the Cougars, who narrowed the gap between themselves and a state championship to three victories.

“We’re going into Thursday knowing we’ll have to play with our formula,” Cauble said. “Which means we’ll have to play good defense because they’ll put it in play.”

NOTES: Cauble said right-hander Deacon Wike (9-1, 1.30 ERA) will start Thursday against Marvin Ridge junior Kyle McKernan. … Carson has won 17 of its last 18 games and improved to 15-0 at home. … Street was credited with two sac bunts and DH Jake Harris had one. … In the Eastern Regional series, New Hanover opened its best-of-three series with a 5-0 win against D.H. Conley.

Marvin Ridge    001  200   0 — 3    12    1

Carson                040  200   x — 6    6    0

WP — Hales (11-1). LP — Hall (9-2).

Leading hitters — Marvin Ridge: Schwartz 3-for-3, double; Jackson 3-for-4, RBI; Gonzalez 2-for-4, double. Carson: Hales 2-for-3, 2 RBIs, 2 runs scored; Alewine 1-for-2, RBI; Driver 1-for-2, 2 runs scored.

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