High school baseball: Mustangs get 33rd win for NCHSAA record, need one more for third state title

Published 3:09 am Saturday, June 1, 2024


Staff report

HOLLY SPRINGS — East Rowan’s baseball team is in prime position to take its third NCHSAA championship and first in 14 years.

East’s 3-2 win against South Central in the opening game of the best-of-three 3A State Championship Series was the 33rd victory for the Mustangs, a state record.

East has lost only twice this season, and South Central would have to beat East twice today to deny the Mustangs the title.

First pitch on Saturday morning at Ting Stadium is set for 11 a.m. If South Central (24-5) stays alive in the matinee game, the teams would meet again to decide the championship at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The Mustangs survived a nine-inning thrill ride on Friday night, pulling out all the stops including the use of one of their patented hidden-ball tricks to get through the top of the seventh.

The decisive run finally scored in the ninth on a walk-off walk that was the 48th RBI of the season for Harrison Ailshie.

A sophomore lefty, Ailshie (10-0) was outstanding again on the mound, although he ended up with a memorable no-decision.

There’s an expanded pitch count limit for the State Championships. Ailshie reached the 120 maximum while getting the last out in the eighth. You can finish an at-bat when you reach the PC limit. Officially, he threw 121 pitches.

Ailshie allowed eight hits, but he didn’t walk a batter. He only struck out three, but his teammates made a lot of plays, including two DPs.

South Central ace Chrstian Chance was a rugged customer and held East to five hits.

East took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Mason Phelps had a clutch hit to drive in a run. Nate Hayworth and Krys Hernandez scored the runs.

South Central came back in the fourth, hitting Ailshie hard in that inning and getting three consecutive base hits at one point. With runners at first and third and no outs, third baseman Sam Blackwelder made a great decision when a ground ball was hit to him. He chose to start a 5-4-3 double play. The runner scored from third to tie the game at 2-all, but the Mustangs avoided a potentially disastrous big inning.

Then it stayed 2-all, with Chance pitching out of tough spots and Ailshie helping himself with the execution of a hidden-ball trick, unexpected subterfuge that erased a pinch-runner from second base and sent the Mustangs to their dugout with momentum.

Ailshie reached the pitch-count limit in the top of the eighth. Then East had two walks to start the bottom of the eighth, but still couldn’t cash in.

Cobb Hightower (4-2) moved from shortstop to the mound to start the ninth, prompting a flurry of defensive changes — Logan Dyer from second to shortstop; Blackwelder from third base to second base; Hernandez from left field to third base, and Ailshie from the mound to left field.

Hightower made it all work. He a sharp inning.

Dyer got on base to start the ninth, and Braden Shive’s huge double put Mustangs at second and third, as Chance reached the pitch count limit.

Justin Blow, South Central’s No. 2 hurler, relieved Chance. After an intentional walk to Hightower filled the bases, there was nowhere to put Ailshie.

Blow fell behind the young slugger 3-and-0 and walked Ailshie on a 3-and-1 pitch to end the game.

Blow likely will be back on the bump for the Saturday morning game. Dyer (11-0) is the probable pitcher for the Mustangs.