PILOT MOUNTAIN — A lucky break and a timely hit are all that separated East Surry and Pine Lake Prep on an evening where two pitchers locked up in a classic pitchers’ duel.
Unfortunately, both of those belonged to the visiting Pride, which duly pulled off a 1-0 upset of the top-seeded Cardinals in the second round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs on Saturday afternoon at Barry Hall Field.
Pine Lake’s William Harwood and East Surry’s A.J. Wilson tied batters up in knots throughout the contest. Harwood allowed just two hits and two runners into scoring position. Wilson allowed four, but two of them came in a single inning, and that ultimately made the difference as the visitors (16-5) advanced to the third round.
“That’s what playoff baseball is supposed to be like. Good pitcher’s duel, two guys going after each other, and it’s usually a low-scoring affair,” said East Surry head coach Chad Freeman.
The key moment in the game came when Pride right fielder Michael Fea came up with one out in the top of the fifth inning. Wilson jammed Fea on an 0-1 pitch, but he managed to hit a weak dribbler up the third-base line that stayed fair. Wilson had to try to make the play, and his hurried throw got past first baseman Trevor Hauser and went into foul territory, allowing Fea to reach second base. When Joseph Castronovo lined a single to right field, Fea was able to come around and score the game’s only run.
Harwood was in the process of handcuffing the Cardinals’ lineup. After walking the first man he faced in the second inning, the senior set down 17 straight East Surry batters before Nick Shoffner singled with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. The hit briefly gave the Cardinals hope, but Harwood ended the game by striking out Hauser for his fifth of the evening against two walks.
He wasn’t dominating, but his defense made every play behind him, including a number of plays on hard-hit balls that were converted into outs by an efficient Pine Lake Prep defense.
“You have to give them credit,” said Freeman. “The difference was that they made every single play defensively, we hurt ourselves a little bit that one inning, and they got a timely hit. When we did get somebody on, which wasn’t often because their pitcher did a great job of keeping us off-balance, we didn’t get the timely hit to get ourselves ahead first.”
East Surry’s best chances to get to the Pride pitcher came early on. Harwood struck out the first two batters of the game, but then Wilson stepped to the plate and stroked a double to left field. Kain Kiser followed with a walk, and the Cardinals were in business with men on first and second with two down, but Tyler Chilton hit into a fielders’ choice, short to second, to end the inning. In the bottom of the second, after Wilson had thrown his second straight perfect inning, Shoffner led off with a walk and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Hauser. However, the next two East Surry batters hit the ball on the button to Pine Lake fielders, Colby Guy to center and Luke Horton to second, and the inning was over.
Fea singled to right to open the third inning with the first Pride hit off Wilson. He stole second base with two out, but the rest of the inning was a strikeout and two popups. In the fourth, Pine Lake’s Shane Connolly singled with two out and stole second, but the Cardinals got out of the inning when John Marion charged a ball hit by Grant Phillips and fired to first, where Hauser snagged the ball and made a swipe tag for the third out.
Wilson eventually went the distance on just 69 pitches, walking none and striking out seven. The one run he was charged with was unearned.
“He did a great job on the mound, you can’t fault that,” said Freeman. “He was all around the zone, throwing strikes and he was less than 70 pitches for the entire game. He threw well.”
The loss ended East Surry’s season with a 20-5 record and was the final game for seniors Horton and Drew Cain. However, everyone else is back from a team that shared the Northwest Conference regular-season title, won the conference tournament, and also won the top overall seed in the West for the postseason. The Cardinals should be one of the favorites for every title available next spring.
“There are positives. We set a lot of goals before the season, and we achieved all of them except for one, which was to make it at least the third round of the state playoffs,” Freeman said. “We came up a little short there, but we still got a great group of guys, and it just didn’t go our way today. We’ve got almost everybody back, and we’ll regroup and work hard in the off-season and see if we can put together a good run next year.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.