ZEBULON — East Surry’s baseball team came just two outs from winning its first state championship.
The Cardinals held a slim 2-1 lead going into the final inning, but Whiteville had its 3-4-5 hitters coming to the plate.
The Wolfpack scored twice in the top of the seventh, then kept East off the bases in the bottom half to win the NCHSAA 1A state title.
Whiteville proved it could hit in the first two games, scoring 11 runs in 11 innings against East aces Tyler Marion and Scott Meredith.
In the rubber game, both teams had to go to a fresh pitcher as East went with first baseman Seth Brim, and Whiteville sent Connor Grainger to the mound.
Some early miscues by East allowed Whiteville to score in the top of the first.
Turner Brown hit a bouncer toward the hole on the right side. Backup first baseman Carson Long wasn’t able to make the catch as the ball rolled to right field.
Geraldo Maggioli tried a bunt, but it popped up in the air, allowing Brim to make the catch. The runner had strayed too far from first, so Brim tried to make the double play, but threw the ball away, allowing Brown to get to second.
Grainger hit a long fly to right to advance the runner.
With the sun sinking low over the third-base dugout, Hunter Cartrelle lifted a long fly ball to right-center. Alec Wilson appeared to have a chance at the ball, but held up like he’d lost the ball in the sun, allowing Brown to score.
Head coach Barry Hall said on Friday that he liked how his team responded whenever Whiteville scored.
The Cards did that again in the bottom of the first.
Logan Sheets drew a full-count walk, then Weston Payne dropped a bunt and was called out on a bang-bang play at first.
Tyler Marion dribbled a ball to the pitcher. Marion was out at first, but the throw from first to third trying to get Sheets went wild, allowing the leadoff man to score.
Brim pitched well and didn’t allow another run. His counterpart, Grainger, showed a great curveball, but his fastball tended to drift up and away from right-handed hitters.
Even though East could see that Grainger had to throw his curve for strikes, the batters couldn’t make him pay.
In the fourth inning, Weston Payne drew a leadoff walk, but Marion and Wilson both popped up to second. Then Madison Chilton grounded to short.
With two outs in the fifth inning, the game was tied 1-1, but the Cards still didn’t have a hit off Grainger.
Finally with two outs, Meredith broke the ice with a double to right-center.
Whiteville immediately pulled the starter for MacKenzie Gore.
Gore promptly threw a wild pitch to move Meredith to third for Joshua Sawyers.
From 1-0, Gore threw five straight fastballs on the inside edge. Two were strikes, then the next three were balls to put Sawyers aboard.
With two outs, the Cards pulled out one of Hall’s favorite plays: the double steal.
Sawyers headed toward second to draw a throw from the catcher, then trotted back to first as Meredith scored for a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Wilson reached on a grounder up the middle. A pinch runner stole second to reach scoring position.
Chilton hit a long fly ball to right center, but the big stadium had plenty of room to hold it in with 400 feet to the 20-foot-high outfield wall in center.
Brim had been in control since the first inning and came out to finish the game and a state championship.
Grainger hit a single to center. Just as the outfielder was reaching for the ball, he fell down, allowing Grainger to reach second as the potential tying run.
Cartrelle hit a liner to right, and Whiteville didn’t try Wilson’s arm as he made the catch.
Zach Pait, who hit a homer over the towering wall in left the night before, slammed another long ball to the power alley measuring 365 feet to the fence.
The left fielder looked like he had enough room to make the catch on the warning track, but couldn’t make the running grab.
Grainger scored, and Pait went to second.
With the go-ahead run on second, Hall visited Brim, but left the senior in as Tyler Marion warmed up.
Hunter Harwood then doubled to left-center for a 3-2 lead.
Marion came on and struck out Nick Hood for the second out. Then he drew a grounder to short that ended the inning, giving the Cards three outs to make another comeback.
Unfortunately, the Cards didn’t reach base, failing for the third time to clinch a championship series under Hall.