DOBSON — Bring on Forbush.
The Surry Central baseball team, and starting pitcher Garrett Johnson in particular, may have been a little too pumped up for the team’s final tune-up before going for the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference title next week. Add in the fact that Saturday’s game with East Wilkes was a special occasion in its own right, and the Golden Eagles starting out a little tight was understandable.
Fortunately, it was just a momentary thing. Johnson settled down and tossed three shutout innings after falling behind 2-0 in the first, and Surry Central went on to claim an 11-2 victory.
“We played well, we were able to get everyone into the game,” said Surry Central head coach Matt Scott. “You want to come in on a high note when you have a big week ahead. Today, we had some guys step up and do some really good things.”
The Golden Eagles (12-10), who could seal up a share of the WP2A title and the conference’s No. 1 seed from the playoffs if they can sweep Forbush next week, took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second inning and handed the Cardinals nothing but goose eggs the rest of the way. Johnson gave way to Silas Hutson in the fifth, and Sean Schendel pitched the seventh to complete a four-hitter.
The game was a fundraiser for “Pink In The Park,” a special event for breast cancer awareness organized several years ago by Coach Scott, with involvement by several parents and friends of Golden Eagle baseball. The game raises money for cancer awareness groups and honors everyone affected by cancer in some way. Anyone who wished to honor a person who had been afflicted with cancer was invited to do so between the varsity and JV contests. Several members of the crowd, a number of Central players, and the entire East Wilkes team, whose former coach is battling cancer, were all a part of this gathering at home plate.
“The reason we were here was more than baseball,” said Scott. “In some way, shape or form, cancer has affected just about everybody’s life. The guys try to keep things in perspective, and sometimes there’s something more important than winning a baseball game.”
The JV contest was a wild affair that featured four lead changes, won 10-9 by the Golden Eagles. Sophomore Mason Wood had a two-RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to drive in the winning runs for Central, and classmate Carter Graham allowed just two runs, one earned, over the final four innings for the win.
The teams seemed set for another slugfest in the varsity showdown.
Johnson walked the first two Wilkes batters to open the contest, and then made things worse for himself when the third batter of the inning hit it back to the mound and Johnson threw the ball high into center field, bringing in a run. But after plunking the next hitter on a full count to load the bases with no one out, the senior flipped the script. He got out of the inning with a strikeout, a squeeze bunt that made the score 2-0, and then a flyout.
“Garrett has been so good for us all year. I don’t know if it was the excitement of the crowd, or if he just wasn’t 100 percent,” said Scott. “We’ve been fighting some illness on the team, and he came to me early and said he was kind of tired. But he settled down and did a great job. They got a bunch of zeroes after that two in the first inning.”
The Eagles responded in the bottom half of the second. Garrett Durham started the inning by working Cardinal starter Zachary Lovette for a full-count walk. The next two batters were put out, but then Johnson atoned for his first-inning gaffe by crushing a double to center, taking third on the throw home. Noah Wilmoth followed with a walk of his own, stole second, and both he and Johnson eventually scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball, respectively.
East Wilkes put runners on the corners with one out in the third, but the runner on first made the mistake of challenging Surry Central catcher Chandler Daughenbaugh and got gunned down at second base for his trouble. Johnson fanned James Burcham for the third out of the inning.
The Eagles’ half of the fourth began with a walk to Johnson and Rilery Dockery reaching on a passed-ball strikeout with one down. Ethan Danley followed with what might have been the play of the game — a perfect bunt laid down between the first-base line and the mound, which slowly rolled in the direction of the Cardinals’ second baseman. Courtesy runner Jed Kidd scored on the play to make it 4-2, and for the rest of the game, Central was in control. Michael Roberts followed with a single to left that drove in two more runs and knocked Lovette out of the game. Tyler Meyers greeted the new pitcher, Burcham, with a single that made the score 7-2.
“(Ethan) is probably one of the two smartest kids I ever coached,” said Scott. “He did that one his own. We’ve talked about the push bunt a lot, where to put. We love the bunt in that situation, it’s a good way to get a run if you execute it. He did that so well that they had no chance to get him out.”
The only suspense the rest of the game was whether or not the Eagles would invoke the mercy rule. They didn’t quite get there, but still finished strong. Daughenbaugh led off the fifth with a double and Wilmoth followed with a single. Both came in to score before the inning was out, thanks to an error and a two-RBI double off the bat of Danley that made it 10-2. In the sixth, Tyler Whitaker had a two-out triple and came in to score on an error to complete the scoring.
Even the defense finished with a flourish. In the top of the seventh, Schendel allowed an infield hit, and then he and first baseman Garrett Durham teamed up to pick the runner off. The next Wilkes hitter hit a rocket right at Durham, and the senior snagged it for the out.
Surry Central will finish its regular season with two games against conference leader Forbush. The teams play in East Bend on Tuesday night at 7:30, and again on Friday at Central. If the Eagles win the Tuesday night game, they will earn no worse than a share of the school’s first league title since 2010 with a win on Friday, and could also secure the No. 1 seed for the playoffs depending on the results of this week’s two games between South Stokes and North Surry.
“I think we’re fundamentally prepared and mentally ready,” Scott said. “I like where we are.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.