High school baseball: Raiders put it all together in 11-2 victory over Carson

Published 11:44 pm Friday, April 30, 2021

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — South Rowan came in 0-1 and looked like world-beaters. Carson came in 1-0 and looked like it had lots of work to do.

That’s the unpredictable nature of baseball for you, and a massive crowd, half happy and half stunned, watched the visiting Raiders demolish the Cougars 11-2 on Friday.

“Great to see that kind of crowd come out and what a beautiful night for a game,” said head coach Chris Cauble, who will have to wait a little longer for his 250th victory at the helm of the Cougars. “But we just got it handed to us. South Rowan was locked in and ready to go — and we weren’t.”

Carson may have come in a bit overconfident, feeling good about its offense after outscoring Davie 10-9 on Tuesday. South came in determined. The Raiders expect a banner season, but West Rowan lefty Casey Gouge silenced them 3-1 on Wednesday.

“Gouge is a good pitcher, can’t take anything away from him, but we were very disappointed with the quality of our at-bats against him, especially with two strikes,” South head coach Thad Chrismon said. “Tonight we played the way we expect to play.”

The guys batting eighth (JD James) and ninth (Jackson Deal) for the Raiders combined to go 7-for-7. They had half of South’s 14 hits. They were constantly on base, turning the lineup over, and South’s guys at the top — Kane Kepley, Nathan Chrismon and Ty Hubbard — have been swinging it with some authority for several years.

“The goal tonight was to play to our potential,” Deal said. “We knew we were better than we showed on Wednesday. If we play like this, there’s no reason we can’t beat anyone.”

Besides the offensive explosion from the bottom of the lineup, the other thing that went right for South was on the mound. The Raiders have high hopes that sophomore Haiden Leffew, a sturdily built, long-haired southpaw will give them an ace to match up with some of the studs they’ll be facing in the Central Carolina Conference. Leffew had an excellent debut, throwing 59 of his 93 pitches for strikes and breezing through six innings.

“His ball moves a lot, and when he puts it in the zone and just lets it work, he misses a lot of barrels,” Coach Chrismon said. “He got ahead of hitters and trusted his defense. He didn’t go searching for strikeouts. He got early contact. That’s the key for a pitcher staying in the game.”

Leffew struck out seven, walked two and allowed only three hits.

“That’s about a normal number of strikeouts for me,” Leffew said. “I don’t get the huge strikeout numbers, but I fill up the zone and my two-seamer runs a lot. The guys behind me make the plays.”

The best one was made by Hubbard, the second baseman. Jordan King hit a bullet in Hubbard’s direction in the fourth. Most high school second basemen are just making a casual wave at that one, but Hubbard glided in front of it, knocked the ball down, and calmly threw the runner out.

“That was a very skilled play,” Coach Chrismon said. “He was able to make it because he moved his feet.”

Carson also started a promising sophomore pitcher, but Hayden Simmerson lasted only two innings and allowed five runs.

“South had some Texas Leaguers fall in, but they also hit some shots,” Cauble said. “South was really good with two strikes, cut down their on swings and put balls in play. When we had two strikes, we swung harder, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do and the opposite of what we did at Davie.”

Simmerson’s problems started in the top of the first when he hit Chrismon with a pitch with one out. Hubbard’s line single to right put runners on the corners. After Hubbard stole second, Drew Watkins, a lefty hitter, dumped a two-run single toward the line in left field. Dylan Driver almost caught the ball with a dive, but it fell, and South had a 2-0 lead.

Chrismon got hit by pitches twice, as did Jacob Ritchie.

“When we got pitched inside, we jumped out of the way,” Cauble said. “When South got pitched inside, they wore it and got on base. They were scrappy.”

A Ritchie HBP was the catalyst for South’s three-run second that presented Leffew with a 5-0 cushion. One-out hits by James and Deal filled the bases. Kepley’s sac fly made it 3-0. Chrismon’s two-out, two-run single bumped the Raiders’ lead to 5-0.

South didn’t let up. There were more solid at-bats in a three-run fourth against reliever Mason Duren. Leffew got that inning started with a double. Deal singled in a run, Chrismon was hit by a pitch with the bases full before Hubbard lofted a sac fly for 8-0.

In the sixth, South threatened to make it a 10-run-rule contest by scoring three more times against reliever Emory Taylor for an 11-0 edge. After James and Deal set the table, Kepley whacked a two-run triple — CP Pyle made a dive for it in center — and Hubbard singled Kepley home.

Carson finally ended Leffew’s shutout bid in the sixth after Pyle walked and Driver doubled him to third. Caden Hudson’s infield hit scored Pyle, and Driver came on home on Jake Harris’ flyball to center to make it 11-2 and extend the game.

Chandler Oddie looked sharp on the mound in the seventh and finished things off for the Raiders.

Kepley and Chrismon had three RBIs apiece. Hubbard and Watkins drove in two. James and Deal scored three runs each.

“We got a strong mound performance and we hit,” Coach Chrismon said. “I couldn’t be any happier with a lot of the at-bats we had.”

It was quite a debut for Leffew.

“At school, even people I didn’t know were telling me I needed to beat Carson, so I was a little nervous,” Leffew said. “But there was a lot of positive energy from my teammates. They had confidence in me, and I had confidence in them.”

For Carson, it’s back to the drawing board with North Piedmont Conference play starting next week — North Iredell Tuesday and East Rowan Friday.

“The only good thing about tonight was it was non-conference,” Cauble said. “If we learned our lesson, it will be worth it.”