PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry’s Luke Horton went from possible goat to hero in just a few minutes, leading the Cardinals to a 3-2 win over Bishop McGuinness at home Tuesday.
Horton was playing center field when starter A.J. Wilson, nursing a 2-0 shutout, had to come out of the game for reaching the pitch-count limit. Horton only had a few pitches to warm up, then had to face the top of the Bishop lineup.
The Villains strung together three hits, starting with a bouncer that looked like it went through Horton’s legs, a single to right and then another single to right that nearly hit the baserunner.
That tied the game 2-2. Then a walk to the next batter loaded the bases before a grounder to short ended the rally.
In the bottom of the seventh, Nick Shoffner walked and came out for pinch runner Chase Hewitt.
Horton came up as the ninth batter and was going to bunt Hewitt over. After a stolen base, however, Horton was swinging away and hit a ball to center.
Coach Chad Freeman waved Hewitt around third. The throw was on target, but a little high. By the time the catcher made the catch and brought the ball down, Hewitt’s foot reached the plate.
That makes two walk-off wins in a row, said Freeman.
“It’s great for the fans, but not for the coach,” he joked. “I don’t have a lot of hair left, and they’re making me lose it quickly.”
The offense didn’t have many good at-bats early in the game, the coach said, but A.J. was throwing well and keeping his team in it. A team has to learn how to win games even when it isn’t doing its best.
In the second, fourth and sixth innings, Bishop managed to get two runners on base, but couldn’t score. Wilson struck out the last batter in the second and fourth innings, then struck out two Villains to end the sixth.
One bright spot for the Cards was second baseman Garrett Willoughby.
Willoughby hit a single in the first and stole second. Wilson hit a long fly to left, but the wind was blowing in and made for an easy out. Then a pop-up stranded Willoughby.
The second baseman also made a nice play in the field.
First baseman Kain Kiser reached for a grounder, but couldn’t bring it in. The ball caromed off his glove. Willoughby made a bare-handed grab and threw to first for the out.
“Garrett did what he was supposed to do in that spot, not taking it for granted that Kain could make the play”, said Freeman. “Because he was hustling over, he was able to finish the out.”
East Surry had two aboard in the second inning, but couldn’t score as Horton was nipped at first on a bang-bang play on a ball hit to the left side.
In the botton of the fifth, the Cards would break through.
Colby Guy hit a long ball down the left-field line. He was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Still, that broke the ice.
Shoffner walked and moved up on a groundout by Horton.
Leadoff man John Marion hit a slow roller to first and beat the throw to the pitcher covering the bag to put men on the corners.
Marion stole second without a throw.
Willoughby hit a long fly ball to left. The outfielder reached for a backhand stab and just missed. Shoffner and Marion scored on the double.
In the seventh inning, Wilson only had about 10 pitches left.
With one out, a slow roller was bobbled by an infielder to put one runner aboard. The next batter was behind 0-2, but fouled off four pitches before hitting a liner right back at Wilson.
The runner had taken off from first. If Wilson makes the catch, a simple throw to first would have ended the game.
Wilson got a glove on the ball to knock it down, but didn’t make the out. The runner reached second while Wilson made the play to first for the second out.
Then Wilson had to come out.
“You only have 105 pitches per player for an outing,” said Freeman. “He went slightly over to finish his last batter. Once he recorded the second out, by rule we had to pull him.”
If Wilson had stayed on the mound, East Surry would have automatically forfeited the game for using an illegal player, and the school would have been fined $500 for the violation.
Bringing in Horton cold for the last out was a tough spot, Freeman admitted. Still, he said Luke wasn’t horribly off. He mostly threw strikes, but give Bishop credit for getting the bat on the ball.
As for the final play where he waved the pinch runner home, Freeman said he felt good about the decision. There was no one out at that time. “Even if Chase was caught, Luke would have wound up on second with one out, with the top of the order coming up.” he said.
East Surry improves to 8-2 overall and 3-0 in the Northwest Conference.
The next game was scheduled to be Thursday with rival Surry Central. However, because of expected showers on Friday, the rematch with the Villains was moved up a day. The Cards travel to Kernersville Thursday and will make up the Golden Eagles game at a later date.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.