High school baseball: East’s Mako makes some magic

Published 5:01 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY— East Rowan ace Chance Mako walked too many on Tuesday, but all that really mattered was that Mako had the mental toughness to walk it off with his bat.

The senior’s screaming homer leading off the bottom of the seventh — his seventh of the season — gave East an 8-7 win over North Davidson at Staton Field that featured a comeback from five runs down. The Mustangs (23-5) survived a sluggish start and punched their bus ticket to the fourth round of the 3A state playoffs.

This is East’s longest playoff run since the 2010 team, coached by Brian Hightower, won the 3A state championship.

With a towering frame and a lively right arm that can put 90-somethings on radar guns, Mako is a North Carolina State recruit and likely MLB draft pick, but baseball is game of percentages, not of absolutes. This was one of those nights when Mako didn’t have it on the mound. No pitcher has his best stuff every night. Mako fought. He battled. He struck out eight Black Knights, but he needed 101 pitches to handle four innings, and East sank into a 5-0 abyss.

“My arm was trailing behind my body some,” said Mako, who knows his pitching mechanics well enough to know when something is off. “When my arm trails, my pitches start getting up in the zone.”

The 15th-seeded Black Knights (16-11) brought a roster full of talented, college-bound players and they drew four walks and whacked seven hits during Mako’s time on the mound.

There was some rain, wet conditions that affected plays, especially in the outfield, but Mako wasn’t looking for excuses.

“The weather wasn’t any factor for me at all,” Mako said. “Just didn’t have a great outing.”

Justin Mabe, a North Davidson sophomore already committed to UNC, a future teammate of East shortstop Cobb Hightower, owned the third-round showdown for the first four innings. Mabe personally drove in three runs against Mako, while shutting down the Mustangs when he was on the mound.

Frustration was mounting for East, and head coach Brett Hatley didn’t make it past the top of the fourth. But Hatley’s early departure from the scene had the desired effect — it fired up the crowd and the 10th-seeded home team.

Five runs down seemed like a tall and steep mountain to climb, but East patiently went to work with grinding at-bats in the bottom of the fourth. Mabe, who had been sailing along, dealt with a wet mound and a rapidly escalating pitch count as one Mustang after another dug in and found a way to get on base.

A bases-loaded ground ball toward third base that should have been one out and maybe two netted zero outs for the Black Knights when the throw home sailed away.

Now it was 5-1, East was on the scoreboard, and momentum was swinging. A packed house roared approval.

Morgan Padgett’s bases-loaded walk made it 5-2. Hightower grounded out, but East got another run on that play to get back to 5-3. Blake Hill’s sharp, two-run single tied it at 5-all.

Just about everyone in East’s lineup had belted a homer — except Joe Burleyson. Naturally, it was Burleson who suddenly went deep in the fifth. It was a titanic, two-run shot, and the Mustangs led 7-5.

Logan Dyer relieved Mako on the mound. The Black Knights, who had turned to Ethan Snyder on the mound after Mabe had thrown 40-plus pitches in the fourth, re-tied the game against Dyer with two runs for 7-all.

But North Davidson’s hard-earned runs in the sixth only served to set the stage for Mako to be a hero in the seventh.

Mako, who has pitched on national-level stages, had the maturity not to let his pitching struggles get into his head. He knew he could still win the game with his bat — and he did.

“My mindset was just to win the ballgame,” said Mako, who recently hit a grand slam to turn around the South Piedmont Conference Tournament championship game at Staton Field. “I was still as hyped up as anyone in our dugout. Going to the plate to lead off the bottom of the seventh, I was focused on getting extra bases, a double or a homer.”

Mako got ahead in the count 2-and-0, and when he got the pitch he was looking for, he gave it a long ride over the left-field fence.

“Fastball right where I wanted it,” Mako said. “Fortunately, I didn’t miss it.”

Hill, Braden Shive and McCall Henderson had two hits each for the Mustangs. Mako only had one, but it was long and far and will be remembered.

Dyer, who saved East’s victory in Round 2 against Asheboro, earned his third win with his three-inning effort. He struck out four and allowed two runs.

Next for the Mustangs is a road trip to West Henderson (22-4).

Third-seeded West Henderson outscored Kings Mountain 9-7 on Tuesday.

See photo gallery from the game here https://www.salisburypost.com/2023/05/17/photo-gallery-mako-homer-helps-mustangs-move-on/