PILOT MOUNTAIN — Tyler Marion said his fastball was his best pitch Friday night.
The breaking ball didn’t look bad either.
East Surry’s senior right-hander pitched East Surry to a 3-1 victory over Albemarle in the fourth round of the Class 1A West playoffs in front of a huge crowd at Barry Hall Field.
The win sends the undefeated Cardinals to a best-of-three Western regional final series next week.
East (28-0) trailed 1-0 after the first inning before Marion hit his stride.
“The second inning he got that pop back,” longtime coach Barry Hall of East Surry said. “Then we go ahead, and he hits another gear.”
Marion gave up one run off three hits, had no walks and struck out seven to improve to 11-0 on the season.
“My arm was feeling good,” Marion said. “It’s a great feeling, knowing my defense was behind me.”
In the bottom of the second inning, Cody Ashburn reached on an error and moved to second on a groundout from Scott Meredith. Logan Sheets came up with a big hit off Albemarle starter Justin Crump, who has committed to play at UNC-Wilmington next season. Sheets’ one-out single up the middle scored Ashburn to tie the game 1-1.
East got the go-ahead run in the third inning. Marion helped his own cause with a leadoff base hit. Courtesy runner Preston Smith advanced to second on an error and third on a balk. Madison Chilton’s double to deep center field scored Smith. Albemarle later got out of the inning when East’s runner was tagged out at the plate on a double steal attempt.
Chilton had a tough game last year in the fourth round of the state playoffs — one where the Cards lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to South Stanly in extra innings.
“I was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts I think. It just wasn’t my night,” Chilton said. “I feel like I was more relaxed tonight. It’s just a great feeling. We are all family. It feels good to be with this club.”
East, which finished with seven hits, added some insurance in the bottom of the fourth.
Meredith started the inning with a single, then moved over on a sac bunt. Weston Payne smashed an RBI double off Crump to deep right field to make it 3-1 Cards.
Bryan Blanton pitched the final two innings for the Bulldogs (22-5).
Both of Albemarle’s pitchers came into the game with an ERA under one run.
“That’s an excellent hitting team,” coach Jamie Kimrey of Albemarle said. “Their pitcher did a great job. His breaking pitch got a little better. We helped them out a little bit at the plate chasing some pitches too.”
Kevin McKinney took the first pitch of the game from Marion for a double into left center field. McKinney scored on a groundout from Zach Brafford to give Albemarle a 1-0 lead.
Albemarle got just two hits the rest of the way. Marion retired the Bulldogs in order in the sixth and seventh inning. He struck out two in the seventh — the first batter with an offspeed pitch and the second with a fastball right down the pipe.
East moves on to face Hayesville, a 6-3 winner over Cherryville in the other regional semifinal. The first game of the series is Tuesday at East Surry.
Hall said Friday’s crowd was the biggest since his team played Cherryville in a regional final series back in 2007.
“The town of Pilot Mountain has jumped on the bandwagon. This is fun. At my age, 66, you just have to enjoy the moment,” said Hall, in his 39th year at the helm at East Surry. “I want these young men to have fun. I’ll try not to wreck the boat.”