PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry plays the first game of the 1A state championship series on Friday, and Coach Barry Hall says which pitcher to use could come down to the flip of a coin.
Senior Scott Meredith and junior Tyler Marion have picked up 20 wins between them to lead the Cardinals to a school-record 30-0 mark this season. That’s not only the most consecutive wins to start a season, but the most total wins as well.
And the Cards will be looking to add two more to the total when they open the best-of-three series against Whiteville (24-5) at 5 p.m. Friday at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, home of the Carolina Mudcats, the Class A minor league team of the Cleveland Indians.
“If I can’t decide who to throw the first game, I’m going to take this penny, I’m going to say heads Marion, tails Meredith, and that’s who we are going to go with,” said Hall. “Either way we go we’re fine.”
Marion is coming off a stellar performance in the Western regional final at Hayesville. The right-hander took a perfect game into the seventh inning and finished with a one-hit shutout. He struck out nine Yellow Jackets in the 4-0 Game 2 win that sent the Cardinals to their third ever trip to the state finals.
Marion is 12-0 on the hill with a 0.36 ERA. He has walked only seven and struck out 108 on the year.
“He had a perfect game and we were talking about it, so I think we actually jinxed him a little bit,” Meredith said. “He threw great. When he’s on the mound, you know he’s going to throw strikes. Most of the time if they put it in play, we’ve got a good defense behind him.”
Meredith, also the school’s all-time leading basketball scorer, handcuffed Hayesville in a 9-1 victory in Game 1. Meredith is 8-0 this season with an ERA of 0.47. He has just six walks all season and 102 strikeouts.
In 30 games this year, East has allowed just 33 runs, posting 12 shutouts.
“There’s really not a lot of pressure on us, because the next guy behind us is just as good,” Marion said.
Hall’s teams that reached the state championship before have relied on great pitching.
In 1982, he had David Mabe, Don Durham and Blaine Bullington in the series against state champion East Bladen. Then in 2007, Hall had a solid rotation with Jordan Jessup, Jon Bullington and Joe Joyce. That team finished the state runner-up to Princeton.
“This year we’ve got two,” Hall said. “Both are competitors. I just let them go. Both can throw three pitches, and can throw them anytime.”
In one home game this season, an opposing coach told his batter, “Look for your pitch.” With Meredith behind in the count, the coach and the hitter were expecting a fastball.
Instead, the batter was frozen and the coach shook his head, muttering, “Two-oh, and he throws a curveball for a strike.”
If this weekend’s series goes to a third game, Hall said he is confident seniors Seth Brim or Cody Ashburn can go. Brim, a senior right-hander, is 6-0 with a 0.37 ERA. Ashburn, the regular third baseman, is 4-0 on the season.
Brim’s grandfather said Seth has been working with a pitching coach out of Virginia and has seen his velocity jump up several ticks on the radar gun as he learns to better utilize his lanky 6-foot-5 frame.
It’s a luxury rarely seen at any level of high school baseball — and the Cards’ lineup believes in all four pitchers.
“We are ring chasing and we are ready for it,” Preston Smith said. “All the coaches have said we’ll take on any team in the state in a three-game series because we’ve got the pitching to do it. I think we’ve got a great shot at it.”
Rarely do Marion or Meredith walk hitters, they throw strikes, and the defense consistently makes the routine plays.
“Tyler and Scott are basically two No. 1s,” Ashburn said. “They’ve done excellent. There’s not many teams that have two pitchers like that. I feel like we have a good chance.”
It doesn’t hurt that East gives great run support, scoring around eight runs a game. Catcher Madison Chilton has been a hit lately, with a .444 average and five home runs. Alec Wilson is .361 at the plate with three homers, and Brim and Marion are hitting .395 on the season.
Ashburn and Brim are ready to go if called upon this weekend against the Wolfpack, who finished second in the Three Rivers Conference. Whiteville swept Rosewood in the Eastern regional final and has won 15 in a row.
“It’s great to have all four out there. If two can get it done, that’s just as good,” Brim said.
East’s deep pitching rotation, along with clutch hitting and solid defense (only 22 errors in 30 games) has worked to perfection so far.
Whiteville has also shown its ability to hit the ball — with 59 runs in six playoff games. But the Wolfpack will have their hands full with an East pitching staff that has given up just five runs in 42 innings in the postseason.
Hall is content to stick with what got his team to this point.
“We’re not going to try and come up with anything now,” Hall said. “It’s too late. We’re ready. We feel like it’s there for the taking.”
Jeff Linville, regional sports content manager, contributed to this report.