PILOT MOUNTAIN — The familiar sound of the aluminum bats rang out from the batting cage at Barry Hall Field on Saturday morning.
East Surry (30-0) held a light practice for the first time since securing a Western regional baseball title on Thursday night.
The Cardinals had to travel more than 500 miles round trip to close out the Hayesville Yellowjackets in the best-of-three series. The team’s charter bus got back to Pilot Mountain around 2:30 a.m. Friday, and didn’t practice that evening.
It was back to business Saturday — as East prepares to play in the state championship beginning Friday night.
The Cardinals were relaxed and confident heading into the series clincher at Hayesville, but not too loose.
“The best compliment is when the bus driver says, ‘That’s the best group I’ve ever taken. I don’t know what you did, drugged them or what,’” coach Barry Hall of East Surry said with a chuckle.
Tyler Marion fired a one-hitter and struck out nine in the 4-0 win that closed out the Jackets. Marion, the junior right-hander, took a perfect game into the seventh.
“He was strong,” Hall said. “He’d been having trouble the first inning, but not this time. He was sharp from the first pitch.”
Marion (12-0) said he threw a lot of pitches before Thursday’s game.
“The whole year, the first inning hasn’t been great,” Marion said. “I got my arm loose, and came out on fire.”
East scored a run in the fourth, two in the fifth and another in the sixth against two solid Hayesville pitchers.
Senior right-hander Scott Meredith, who is also undefeated on the hill this season, said the team knew it had to focus in order to avoid a decisive Game 3.
“We didn’t want to play here again,” Meredith said. “We knew we had to take care of business.”
Marion and Meredith have proven themselves in big game situations, with a defense behind them that consistently makes the routine plays.
East has given up just five runs in six playoff contests.
“Tyler throwing a one-hitter, that was big, especially this deep in the state playoffs,” infielder Logan Sheets said.
East Surry plays Whiteville for the state crown. Whiteville swept Rosewood in the Eastern regional final series, winning 14-5 in Game 1 and 5-4 in Game 2. The 1A state finals start Friday at either Five County Stadium in Zebulon or UNC-Greensboro’s baseball stadium.
Hall said his team has enjoyed tremendous support from the community during the Cards’ run.
“We had as many people as Hayesville did,” Hall said. “When you travel that far it’s unreal. That’s the type of people we have. That means a lot to me.
“My phone (Friday) night, the night before, I was getting text messages. People have really gotten behind us. These kids will never forget this. It’s something they’ll have the rest of their life.”
After the shutout win Thursday sent the Cards to the championship, the players enjoyed a fun bus ride back home.
“It was the best feeling ever. At first it didn’t seem real,” senior outfielder Preston Smith said. “I couldn’t be more excited. This is a dream season.”