PILOT MOUNTAIN — Mount Airy’s baseball team both lived and died by aggressive baserunning in its 5-4 loss to Northwest 1A Conference rival East Surry on Wednesday night,
The Cardinals claimed the key conference win on a sacrifice fly by sophomore Nick Shoffner with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. The fly ball went right to Granite Bear center fielder Cole Shelton, but Shelton’s throw to the plate in an attempt to cut off the game-winning run was too late.
The final run concluded a back-and-forth game in which the teams combined for three ties and three lead changes. The Bears (11-7, 6-3 NW1A) were held to just three hits by East Surry ace pitcher A.J. Wilson, who struck out 14 batters in the the complete-game victory. However, the Bears’ baserunning harassed the Cardinals into several costly throwing errors, and only one of the four runs against Wilson was earned.
Down 2-1 going to the top of the fifth inning, Mount Airy took the lead for the first time after Clay Taylor and Chris Chanclor reached base. Chanclor’s single put runners on first and second, and when the Bears attempted a double steal, a poor throw from home plate to try to catch the lead runner sailed into left field. Both Taylor and Chanclor scored to give the visitors a 3-2 edge.
The Cardinals responded in their half of the inning, getting two runs of their own courtesy of RBI doubles by John Marion and Kain Kiser. Mount Airy had an immediate chance to tie in the top of the sixth, when Matthew Dodd reached second base on an error leading off and later reached third base. However, the Bears’ aggressiveness on the basepaths backfield when Dodd tried to steal home with two outs and was caught.
Clayton Cogdill, who was standing at the plate when Dodd was nabbed, led off the Bears’ seventh with a walk. Tanner Dutton singled to center for only the second hit off Wilson. After Robert Brown sacrificed both men into scoring position, Clay Taylor singled to tie the game. However, Wilson got out of the jam when Dutton was picked off at second base and he notched a strikeout to end the inning.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Wilson, who had been intentionally walked three times, finally got to hit and drive a double to the track in left-center field. The next two men were walked, setting up a force at any base. However, Shoffner got the ball into the air and drove in the game-winning run.
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, when Trevor Hauser brought in Tyler Chilton on a misplayed fly ball. Mount Airy tied the game with two out in the top of the third, when Taylor raced home on a wild pitch.
After the Bears’ Baylor Brinkley extinguished an East Surry threat by picking a runner off third base with two out in the third, the Cardinals regained the lead in the next inning, when a routine ground ball to the right side by Hauser scored a go-ahead run in an inning marred with controversial calls for both teams.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 15-4 overall and 8-1 in conference play. The Cardinals can do no worse than share the conference title with Walkertown if they win at Mount Airy on Friday night. The Bears will settle for the No. 3 spot in the conference — still no mean feat after the team was 3-19 a year ago — and can look forward to a trip to the state playoffs and a first-round home game in the conference tournament.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.