High school baseball: Dyer on fire, as Mustangs reach regional round

Published 4:09 am Monday, May 20, 2024

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — It’s supposed to get tougher in the state playoffs.

That hasn’t been the case so far, at least, for East Rowan’s baseball team. The Mustangs, top-seeded in the 3A West playoffs, have romped 11-0, 9-3, 9-0 and 12-2 in their four playoff games to date.

That 12-2 score, a 10-run rule victory, occurred on Friday at Staton Field where the rain held off and the Mustangs walloped Oak Grove. Sam Blackwelder drove in runs No. 11 and No. 12 to walk if off in the bottom of the sixth.

The one-and-done portion of the state baseball playoffs is history now, and coaches of dominant teams always breathe a sigh of relief at that point.

Several East teams that were talented enough to win state titles weren’t lucky enough to get through those early rounds.

But now someone is going to have to beat the Mustangs twice, and East has team that has been overwhelming. East averages 10 runs per game and allows 2.5 runs per game.

East is 21-0 at Staton Field, so the Mustangs securing home-field advantage for the opening regional game, as well as the third one, if needed, was no small thing.

That best-of-three series with 10th-seeded Tuscola (21-5) will open on Tuesday at Staton Field. East will travel to Waynesville, about 30 miles west of Asheville, to play the black-and-gold Mountaineers on Thursday. If the series goes three games, they’ll decide it at Staton Field on Friday.

East (30-1) is the second team in school history to win 30. The 2010 state champs finished 31-2. South Rowan’s 2022 state champs were the only other Rowan baseball team to reach 30 wins. The Raiders went 30-5.

Logan Dyer (10-0) won again on Friday as East took its 23rd game in a row. Dyer, a No. 2 hurler who would be the ace for just about everyone else, is a Catawba recruit. He pitched a complete game, allowed four hits, walked three and struck out eight Grizzlies (14-12).

Dyer’s only issues came early. A base hit and a two-run homer by Oak Grove in the top of the first.

“He struck out the 3 hitter, a kid that signed with Wingate, and I think the cleanup man got one on the cap, but he got it out of here,” East head coach Brett Hatley said. “Dyer threw the ball well all night. He’s been there for us all year, and (pitching coach) Ethan Free has done a great job with all those guys.”

Defensively, Krys Hernandez made some nice plays at third, and center fielder Nate Hayworth made a good catch. But mostly it was just a matter of handling the routine plays, and East does that well. The Mustangs turned in another errorless game.

East got one run back in the bottom of the first, but still trailed 2-1 going to the bottom of the third. That’s when East took control with four runs. The Mustangs scored in every inning the rest of the way.

“We had a low number of strikeouts (four) and put the ball in play,” Hatley said. “We strung a lot of good at-bats together.”

The offensive highlight for the Mustangs was Braden Shive’s first home run of the season. While it was Shive’s first homer, he has 43 hits and is batting .434.

East’s No. 5 hitter McCall Henderson had two more RBIs and continued his assault on record books with 53 for the season.

As far as season stats that have been reported to the NCHSAA, Henderson’s 53 RBIs put him in the top 10 all-time in the state. He’s up there with seasons by former MLB players such as Trot Nixon (New Hanover) and Josh Hamilton (Athens Drive).

“We put a good lineup out there 1 through 9,” Hatley said. “But when you get to those 3-4-5 guys in the middle (Cobb Hightower, Ailshie and Henderson), those guys have just had incredible seasons.”

Shive, Hightower, Dyer, Blackwelder and Hayworth had two hits each. Hayworth, a Tusculum recruit, scored three runs. Mason Phelps knocked in two.

East is in the regional series for the first time since it won the 3A state championship in 2010. Sometimes history repeats. Tuscola was East’s regional opponent that season.

The 3A East regional series will be between 4 seed  Terry Sanford, a Fayetteville school, and 14 seed South Central, a school near Greenville.