High school baseball: Mustangs fall in regional opener, play on the road Thursday

Published 2:38 am Wednesday, May 22, 2024


GRANITE QUARRY — No one wins them all in baseball, but East Rowan fans had just about forgotten what it felt like to come out on the short end.

East hadn’t lost in the friendly confines of Staton Field all season and hadn’t lost to anyone since March 19, but the Mustangs couldn’t finish off Tuscola on Tuesday.

The Mountaineers, who made a long journey from the Great Smoky Mountains to open the best-of-three 3A West championship series, scored four runs in the top of the seventh against East closer Cobb Hightower and stunned the Mustangs 7-4.

Top-seeded East (30-2) now has to travel to 10th-seeded Tuscola (22-5) on Thursday. If East can win that one, the series would come down to a decisive third game on Friday back at Staton Field.

Assuming the Mustangs stick with their normal rotation. Logan Dyer would get the ball on Thursday, and it probably would be Joe Burleyson on the bump on Friday, if the Mustangs can win in the mountains. Dyer and Burleyson are Catawba College recruits.

East had lefty Harrison Ailshie (10-0) on the mound on Tuesday. He matched zeroes with Tuscola’s sophomore hurler Amos Rich in the early innings.

Ailshie faced nine batters the first three innings. Rich matched his efficiency.

The tone of the game switched suddenly in the top of the fourth when the Mountaineers put two men on with a walk and a single in front of a three-run homer to left by Evan Conner, a hot hitter who socked two homers in a playoff game last week.

East answered immediately, putting together a string of  hits in the bottom of the fourth to score four times and take a 4-3 lead. Braden Shive, Logan Dyer, Hightower and Ailshie scored the runs. Hightower, Ailshie, McCall Henderson and Nate Hayworth drove runs in.

Rich, who struck out three, walked one and hit one, somehow survived the fourth, kept his poise and regained control. East didn’t score again, but Tuscola still trailed 4-3 going to the top of the seventh.

Ailshie was really good other than the three-run homer. He struck out seven and walked one, while allowing four hits.

The winning formula for East all season has included closing out games with Hightower moving from the mound to shortstop, so the UNC-bound senior got the call to protect the one-run lead.

Hightower got the first out, but a hit batsman, a single and a walk to a pinch-hitter followed to load the bases for the visitors.

Bo West, the No. 9 batter in the lineup, then produced a clutch hit he’ll remember the rest of his life, a two-run double that put Tuscola ahead 5-4.

That turned the lineup over, and lead-off man Jed West, Bo’s big brother, delivered the two-run single that boosted Tuscola’s edge to 7-4.

Rich was nearing the pitch-count limit going to the bottom of the seventh, but he was able to finish. The Mustangs got one hit in the seventh but couldn’t make any noise.

Shive, Henderson and Hayworth had doubles for the Mustangs, but Rich held East to seven hits.