High school baseball: Cougars win on road, advance to SPC semis
Published 5:25 am Wednesday, May 3, 2023
CONCORD — It may have been Carson senior Hayden Simmerson’s worst pitching outing of the season.
He could smile about it. For a change, the offense picked him up and the bullpen picked him up … and the Cougars won.
Simmerson, who battled through five innings on the road on Tuesday to boost his record to 6-2, benefited from unusual run support. Carson racked up six runs in the first two innings and beat Northwest Cabarrus 9-3 in the opening round of the South Piedmont Conference.
The teams had identical conference regular seasons, but the fifth-seeded Cougars (12-10) lost a draw and were on the road against the fourth-seeded Trojans (13-9).
Carson was out-hit 11-7, but out-fielded the Trojans significantly. Carson had no errors. Northwest committed five.
NWC starting pitcher Tanner Kaler struck out 11 batters. He fanned the first two men he faced, but then Carson proceeded to score three two-out runs in the top of the first.
Simmerson walked, Jacob Efird doubled, and a walk to Cody Russell loaded the bases. Caron got its first run on a passed ball. Austin Efird’s clutch, two-run single to center made it 3-0.
Northwest got one run back in the bottom of the first, but the Cougars scored three more times in the second.
They did it with little ball and miscues, and there was a run-scoring single by Will Bradshaw.
When Simmerson strolled back to the mound for the bottom of the second, he had a 6-1 lead. Unfamiliar territory.
Game over, right?
Well, not exactly.
Carson led 7-2 going to the bottom of the fifth, but the Trojans put together four hits in that inning. They only scored one run because Simmerson got two strikeouts with the bases loaded.
That was it for Simmerson — five innings, six strikeouts, 101 pitches, two wild pitches, a balk, four walks and 10 hits allowed. Normally his pitching line is a whole lot prettier than that, but winning 9-3 beats the heck out of losing 1-0.
Simmerson singled in a run in the top of the sixth to add to Carson’s cushion. Emory Taylor had an RBI in the seventh to tack on one more insurance tally.
The story the last two innings was Carson lefty Casey Crawford. He didn’t qualify for a save because he entered the game in the sixth with an 8-3 lead, but he was lights out. He struck out six of the seven Trojans he faced. Carson didn’t have to use Mikey Beasley, Corbin Hales or Taylor, so they’ll be available for the Wednesday tournament semifinal at 7 p.m. at Staton Field against top-seeded West Rowan.
Northwest, which got three hits each from Zach Helms and Blake Gaffney, is out of the tournament but will return for the 3A state playoffs.
South Rowan, seeded sixth, surprised third-seeded Lake Norman Charter 5-2 in the other SPC first-round game on Tuesday.
The Raiders (8-14) had dropped six in a row and nine out of 10, but they won at Lake Norman Charter for the second time this year.
It was South’s first victory since April 10 and kept the Raiders’ season alive. It was over if they had lost.
South advanced to play second-seeded East Rowan in the 4 p.m. tournament semifinal to be played on Wednesday at Staton Field.
Lake Norman Charter will return to action in the 3A state playoffs.
The SPC championship game has been moved up to Thursday because of some weather concerns for Friday.
East Rowan is second in the 3A West RPI rankings. West Rowan is fourth. Lake Norman Charter is 18th, with Northwest Cabarrus 22nd and Carson 23rd.
The 3A West bracket will include 32 teams. South Rowan is 37th, but could automatically qualify for the playoffs by winning the tournament.
An 8-2 loss to West Davidson on Tuesday in a Central Carolina Conference tournament semifinal played at Finch Field probably ended North Rowan’s season.
Sixth-seeded North led 2-0 early, but the second-seeded Green Dragons scored three runs in the fourth to turn things around.
The Cavaliers (5-12) are 36th in the 1A West RPI rankings.