DANBURY — The East Surry Cardinals added to their already fantastic season with a dominant 9-2 victory Friday night in the conference championship game.
The Cardinals (21-2, 7-1) won the Northwest 1A Conference regular-season title with at least three more wins than each of the other teams. So, it was only appropriate that the Cards win the tournament championship in like fashion.
“It’s always nerve-racking when you go through it,” said East Surry coach Chad Freeman. “But once it’s over, it’s a great accomplishment and you feel a little sense of relief.”
East came into the championship game having already defeated the North Stokes Vikings (16-9, 4-4) twice in the regular season. The Vikings may have been on their home field (although East was the home team as a higher seed), but the Cardinals proved too much once again.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” Freeman said. “We came out early and put the pressure on them, we had some good at-bats. We got a little sloppy there at the end, but you can’t complain when you put nine on the board against a quality team and a quality pitcher in (Layton) Helms.”
The Cardinals didn’t score until the third inning, but were able to limit the Vikings’ opportunities as well. In the first three innings, Cardinal pitcher Kain Kiser allowed just one hit, a double in the first inning. Kiser had six strikeouts in the first three innings.
Helms also did his part to keep the Cards at bay in the opening innings. Helms had four strikeouts in the first two innings and gave up just one hit, a single by Garrett Willoughby in the bottom of the first.
Helms’ efforts proved futile once things started clicking for the Cardinals. Trevor Hauser started the third inning by reaching on an error. Hauser advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a sacrifice from Colby Guy. Hauser then scored the first run of the night on an RBI single from John Marion.
A fly-out resulted in the second out for East, but the inning was far from over. AJ Wilson was walked, painting the corners with Marion, who made it to third off a pair of wild pitches. Kiser made the ball look like a bouncy ball in the infield on an RBI single that scored Marion.
Wilson crossed the plate on a wild pitch to put the Cardinals up 3-0. The lead then increased to 5-0 when Cameron Whitaker hammered a home run over the center-field fence.
North didn’t have much time to mount a response by going three-up, three down in the next two innings. Kiser added another five strikeouts in this span. East failed to score in the bottom of the fourth after Helms delivered three strikeouts, but the action would resume in the bottom of the fifth.
Willoughby started the fifth with a single. Wilson batted Willoughby in with a single, then advanced to second when the ball was overthrown at the plate.
Ben Chesnet was subbed on the mound, but it didn’t do much to contain the Cardinals. Kiser hit a single as Chesnet’s first batter. A wild pitch allowed Wilson to score for the second time. Tyler Chilton was walked and then he and Zach Robertson, running for Kiser, both advanced into scoring position. Robertson scored off another wild pitch, making it an 8-0 game.
The Vikings looked to end the inning by getting Hauser out at first. However, an error not only allowed Hauser to make it to first, but it let Chilton score the ninth run.
North Stokes’ last-ditch effort came in the top of the seventh. A few wild pitches and Cardinal errors allowed the Vikings to score two runs. But their effort proved too little, too late as the Cardinals walked away as outright conference champions.
“Across the board, there were numerous guys on the team that did there part,” Freeman said. “We had a lot of guys who contributed and pitched in. I’m really proud of the team and hope we can keep it going as we go forward.”
Freeman was named NW1A Coach of the Year following the game, while Kiser was honored as Player of the Year and Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
As for the state playoffs, Freeman said they’re going to take it one game at a time, and that looking ahead won’t do them any favors.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith