PILOT MOUNTAIN — Longtime coach Barry Hall of East Surry said his players prefer not to talk about keeping the undefeated record alive.
They just go out and play baseball.
It’s worked so far.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in the 1A polls, improved to 17-0 after a win over North Surry on Friday night.
“The kids know it, and we know it. But it’s not ‘Go out and keep it going.’ They just say, ‘Let’s go play as good as we can play and if we do that we are going to win,’” Hall said. “That (mindset) is going to be big in the state playoffs.”
Aces Scott Meredith and Tyler Marion give the Cards a powerful 1-2 punch on the hill, but East’s rotation doesn’t stop there. Seth Brim and Cody Ashburn provide the Cards with pitching depth rarely seen at the 1A level.
Coming into Friday’s contest against the Greyhounds, East’s pitching staff of six (Lucas Koons and Dustin Rogers have also thrown this season) had a combined earned run average of 0.97.
“It’s unreal. When you are doing that you are going to win a lot of games,” said Hall, who has been at the helm at East Surry since 1975. “When I look at the stats I just shake my head.”
Meredith had an ERA of 0.70 going into Friday’s game. Hall said what makes Meredith and Marion so tough is their ability to throw three pitches and the fact they don’t walk many hitters.
“We’ve gone 115 innings and only walked 26 people,” Hall said. “Coming into (Friday) we’ve struck out 175. That just jumps out at you.”
It’s tough to rattle either of East’s starters, who have worked their way out of a jam when they needed to. The Cardinals trailed 5-2 in a game at West Wilkes before coming back to win 14-6.
East captured a 1-0, nine-inning victory against Mount Airy earlier this season. At times, the Cardinals have given up a few hits, and a few opponents have threatened to do some damage, but East has consistently found a way to keep teams from putting runs on the board.
“They been in tight spots. We’ve been behind this season,” Hall said. “West Wilkes jumped all over us. I said ‘Boys, that was good for you.’ We came back and won the ball game. They saw right there you keep playing until that final inning.”
The defense has been solid with only 16 errors in 17 games, and the team hits up and down the lineup. East is .363 at the plate for the season.
The Cards are off to their best start in school history.
“We were 25-5 last year and lost a tough game to South Stanly in the sectional finals,” Hall said. “They’ve won 36 of the last 38 games. That’s not a bad streak.
“This is a good, fun group to coach. They come to play. We’ve been getting pitching, defense, timely hitting. You do that you’ll win a lot of games.”
Hall has coached some great teams in his coaching days at East, but perhaps none with the depth these Cards bring to the field.
“I’ve been blessed with good starting pitchers, and I’ve always had pretty good No. 2. But we’ve never had four that I’m not afraid to throw out there at any time,” he said. “The other thing is the kids are so versatile. We’ve got kids that are two or three deep at every position.”
Hall has made two trips to the 1A state finals, most recently in 2007. That year, East finished the state runner-up to Princeton.
If East keep playing like this, another deep postseason run might very well be in the Cards.
“This team reminds me of that team that made the run,” Hall said. “We went to Cherryville and beat them at their field which you don’t do. Then we beat them here at home. Princeton was a good series.
“Going into the state playoffs, we can’t look back and look back at the record. When that starts it’s one and done. When the state playoffs start we keep doing exactly what we are doing, and good things can happen.”
Hall said his kids learned a lot from the 2-1 10-inning heartbreaking loss to eventual state champion South Stanly. It was a game where Hall said his kids played hard and did everything they could do.
They’ve sure raced out of the gates this season, and show no signs of slowing down.
With a 17-game win streak, East can’t afford to take a day off. Not with every team bringing their best shot.
“We’ve told our kids they better be ready to go. You can’t hide when you are 17-0,” Hall said. “They’ve bought into it.”
This season has been extra special for Hall, whose daughter Denise gave birth to twin girls just weeks ago.
The proud grandfather introduced his 3-week old twin granddaughters to the players after East beat Bishop McGuinness last week.
“That was a rallying point for these boys,” he said. “It’s been some year for me. God has blessed me.”
Hall credited his wife, Rachel, for raising his kids Denise and Bryan, praised assistant coaches Chad and Jerry Freeman, new athletic director Randy Marion, and mentioned the support from many in the community.
Barry Hall Field was upgraded with a new brick backstop and dugouts this season. Should East keep winning, they’ll get to play a few extra games at home in the state playoffs.
“People will say you are a good 1A team. I like to tell them to forget the last part. This team is a good team, period,” Hall said. “What I like about this team is our kids make the routine plays, but they can also make the hard plays. They just make them.”