PILOT MOUNTAIN — Coach Barry Hall of East Surry told his team prior to the start of this year’s state playoffs that he wanted to warm the bus up just two more times this season.
On Friday night, the Cardinals assured their longtime coach at least one more bus trip.
Undefeated East Surry beat Albemarle 3-1 in the fourth round of the state playoffs to advance to the Final Four. The Cardinals have home-field advantage in a best-of-three Western Regional final series against Hayesville that begins Tuesday in Pilot Mountain.
After recording the final out against a solid Bulldogs team in front of a huge crowd at Barry Hall Field, the veteran coach couldn’t hide the excitement of making a trip back to the regional level.
“Considering I’ve been here 39 years and only made it twice?” Hall said. “This is fun.”
In 1982 and 2007, East finished as the state runner-up.
Should the Cardinals (28-0) win the best-two-out-of-three format against Hayesville, they’ll punch a ticket back to the state finals.
Albemarle proved to be a good test for the Cards — with a pair of aces with ERAs well under a run a game (Justin Crump and Bryan Blanton).
Crump has already committed to Division I UNC-Wilmington, and Blanton, a three-sport athlete with the Bulldogs, has committed to play at Catawba Valley Community College.
“They are no slouch,” Hall said. “We won’t face any better pitchers.”
Unfazed, East came through in the clutch.
Junior outfielder/shortstop Logan Sheets hit a two-out single up the middle off Crump to tie the game 1-1. Senior catcher Madison Chilton, who has been on a tear lately, crushed a one-out double to deep center field for the go-ahead run. Senior second baseman Weston Payne hammered a two-out double to drive in East’s final run of the evening.
Marion had two hits, while Meredith and Alec Wilson hit singles.
Crump allowed seven hits and walked one in four innings before giving way to Blanton.
Meanwhile, Marion kept Albemarle in check with a complete game three-hitter. The Cards’ hurler didn’t walk anybody, struck out seven and the defense behind him committed just one error.
Marion said afterward that it would mean the world to him to win a state championship for Hall, who won his 700th game this season. A number of other players share the same vision.
Up next are the Yellowjackets (20-2), who ran the table in the Smoky Mountain Conference and ousted perennial western power Cherryville 6-3 in the fourth round. Hayesville has to make the 270-mile trek to Pilot Mountain for Game 1 Tuesday, then the Cards warm up the bus for the long trip west into the heart of the Smoky Mountains for Game 2 Thursday. A decisive third game, if necessary, would be Saturday at Barry Hall Field.
With a powerful pitching rotation of Marion, Meredith, Seth Brim and Cody Ashburn, Hall has said he likes his chances in a series.
If East moves on after next week, the bus would crank up one more time, bound for the state championship series.