East Surry continues its postseason run tonight when it takes on Albemarle in a fourth round 1A West playoff game in Pilot Mountain.
The winner advances to a best-of-three Western regional final series next week.
East (27-0) seems to have it all — a deep pitching rotation, razor sharp defense, and an offense that can hit up and down the lineup.
Junior right-hander Tyler Marion is expected to start on the hill tonight against the Bulldogs. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“Many years before we’ve had a No. 1, and used him every playoff game,” longtime coach Barry Hall said. “This year we have the luxury where we can give pitchers rest. Our third pitcher can come in and give us two good innings. It’s unusual to have three young men come in, throw hard and throw strikes.
“We don’t lose much when we go to (No.) 3 or 4.”
Senior right-hander Scott Meredith is 7-0, with playoff wins over Bishop McGuinness and East Montgomery. Marion (10-0) tossed a complete game playoff shutout against Starmount. Seth Brim, a 6-foot-5 senior, pitched two innings of relief against the Villains and another two against the Eagles. Cody Ashburn is another reliable arm Hall can rely on if needed.
With the 1-2 starting punch of Marion and Meredith leading the way, East’s pitching staff has handcuffed hitters all season. In 27 games this season, the Cards held their opponent to one run or less 21 times with 10 shutouts.
When either of East’s top two guys get run support, they seem to get even stronger. Both Marion and Meredith shook off a rocky first inning in the Cards’ last two playoff games.
“That’s what I like about the two starters,” Hall said. “You get them ahead, the level even goes higher. In high school baseball that’s unusual. Those two kids have that mentality. They kind of bring it up a notch.”
Albemarle (21-4), the No. 1 seed out of the Yadkin Valley Conference, is coming off a 3-1 win against Alleghany in its third round matchup. The Bulldogs boast a couple of strong arms as well, noted Hall.
“They are a very solid team. They have two good right-handers, Justin Crump and Brian Blanton. They are both seniors that have been in program for a little while. It will be a good test for us,” Hall said. “They hit the ball and put it in play. We feel like if we keep our walk total down, and play defense, we can play with them.”
Tonight’s game carries a little extra meaning for the guys on last year’s team that made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs. East lost a 2-1 heartbreaker on the road in extra innings to the eventual state champion South Stanly Rebel Bulls.
Hall said it was one of his toughest losses in 39 years of coaching baseball.
“This year, I hope the kids have a different feeling than they did last year after this game,” he said. “They played their hearts out, and they deserve to be rewarded.”
East has certainly reaped the rewards of an undefeated season with home-field advantage in the 1A West playoffs. Barry Hall Field was a sea of red on Tuesday night, and a huge crowd is likely again tonight.
Should the Cards advance, they’ll have home-field in the regional final against the Cherryville-Hayesville winner. The games would be Tuesday, Thursday and a decisive third game Saturday if necessary.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association changed the rule this season to determine playoff seeding by the best overall record rather than conference priority.
“One of our goals was to have a good enough record where we could stay at home,” Hall said. “It’s not just Pilot Mountain. We are having kids from other schools, parents from other schools come watch us play. That says a lot about Surry County sports.”
“We kind of came out (Tuesday) night in the first inning a little jacked up,” Hall said. “We uncharacteristically made two errors after two were out. We talked (Wednesday) about how you have to slow the game down a little bit, where you can play it. If you don’t you get in trouble. Enjoy the game, go out there and play.”
It’s an approach that’s worked to perfection this season.
Going back to last season, East has won 48 of its last 50 games — with the last defeat coming May 21, 2013.
Hall said he likes the best-of-three format in the regional and state finals.
“You can lose one and still continue. That’s what I like about the two out of three,” he said. “You might have one bad game, and be the best team.”
To get to that point, the Cards have to take care of business tonight against Albemarle.
“I don’t think anything Albemarle throws at us is going to scare this team. If they come ready to play I like our chances,” Hall said.