PILOT MOUNTAIN — There is no team in the Northwest 1A Conference that will just roll over for you.
Conference co-leader East Surry had to be reminded of that on Tuesday evening, when the fourth-ranked Cardinals started slowly in game one of a doubleheader with Atkins at Barry Hall Field. However, East Surry righted the ship in time to claim an 10-3 victory in that contest, and then rolled to an 11-1 victory over five innings in the nightcap.
“It was good to come out and get two wins, but to be honest, we weren’t ready to play in that first game,” said East Surry coach Chad Freeman. “We weren’t mentally ready from the get-go, and you have to give Atkins credit, because they are a much, much improved team from where they were a year ago. Coach Hawks has done a tremendous job.”
The Cardinals, who split a pair of contests with No. 5 Walkertown last week, improved to 12-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. The defending champion Wolfpack (10-4, 5-1) is even with East Surry in the loss column, with Mount Airy (8-6, 4-2) a game behind.
In game one, East Surry failed to score in either of the first two innings, and only got on the board in the third because of two errors by the Camels after the first two batters had been put out. It was 2-0 at that point, and the Cardinals doubled it to 4-0 in the fourth, when Nick Shoffner and Colby Guy drew back-to-back walks to lead off the inning. Shoffner scored on a Luke Horton sacrifice fly, and Guy ended up stealing home to make it 4-0.
Atkins scored two runs in its half of the fifth, but East Surry put the game away in its half of the frame. Tyler Chilton and Shoffner led off with walks. With one down, Trevor Hauser walked to load the bases, setting up Horton for a second straight sac fly. After an error and a walk to Garrett Willoughby plated another run and kept the bases filled with Cardinals, A.J. Wilson hit a three-run double.
Back-to-back singles by Chilton and Shoffner in the sixth gave the Cardinals their final run of game one.
Wilson earned the win, striking out 10 over six innings.
Game two was a much more decisive victory, but arguably much more important than the “mercy rule” rout of the Camels was the return of East Surry pitcher Kain Kiser to the mound.
The junior, who has been one of the Cardinals’ top hurlers since he was called up from the JV’s early last season, had not been able to pitch since early in the second due to a sore arm. He was deemed ready to return on Tuesday, and started game two against Atkins. Kiser threw 50 pitches over four innings, striking out six Atkins batters and allowing just four hits, two of which came against the first four batters he faced.
“We came out much better for the second game, and it was good to get Kain back on the mound,” said Freeman. “He hadn’t been able to pitch since he hurt his arm in the second game of the season, and hopefully he will be able to contribute for us down the stretch.”
Kiser had all of the help he needed. The Cards were solid in the field, and the bats were in full force as game two got under way.
John Marion greeted Atkins starter Jacob Holder with a double to center to open the bottom of the first. Willoughby followed with a line single to center and it was 1-0. Then Wilson cracked a double into the left-center gap for a 2-0 lead. Kiser helped himself by swatting a single to right for the third run. He then stole second base, and completed his trip around the bases courtesy of sac flies from Chilton and Shoffner, the latter driving in the run.
With one out in the second, Marion reached second again, this time thanks to an error by the Camels. This time, Willoughby blasted one to deep left for a double and a 5-0 lead. The Camels changed pitchers and got Wilson out, but Kiser hit a slow roller to the Camels’ shortstop’s left and he kicked it, allowing another run to come in. Chilton teed off for a double to deep left, and East Surry led by a touchdown after two.
Cameron Whitaker led off the Cardinals’ third by taking one for the team and then stealing, and Hauser made Atkins pay for it by doubling to right. Marion swatted a single into the right-center gap and East led 9-0 at that point.
With the mercy rule and an early end to the night looming, the Cardinals began their fourth inning just like they had the third, with Whitaker getting plunked again, this time with one out. The sophomore played the entire game at third base and batted three times with no official at-bats, having been walked his first time up. Back-to-back singles by Hauser and Horton took care of that, and got Whitaker home. Willoughby smacked a sac fly to center field and extended the lead to 11-0.
The Cardinals pulled Kiser after that half-inning and Eli Bullington pitched the fifth for East Surry. Atkins made a spirited attempt to keep the game going, with a single, a hit batsman and an error by Bullington himself finally getting the Camels on the board. However, with two one and one out, Bullington got Atkins’ leadoff man to ground out and then struck out the final batter to secure the win.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.