PILOT MOUNTAIN — The forces of Mother Nature weren’t even enough to stop the East Surry Cardinals baseball team Friday night.
The Cardinals (22-2) hosted the 16-seed Swain County Maroon Devils (12-7) in the second round of the 1A state playoffs. When a sudden thunderstorm delayed play in the bottom of the first inning, the teams elected to wait it out instead of Swain making the long trip home. The Cards emerged from a delay of more than two hours to defeat the Devils 12-0 and advance to the Sweet 16.
East Surry pitcher Kain Kiser began the game with his first of 11 strikeouts in just four innings. Kiser walked the Devils’ Gaige Southards, but Southards was called out on second on a fielder’s choice. Another Kiser strikeout ended the inning for Swain.
John Marion started things off in the Cardinals’ half of the inning with a single, and was soon joined on base by a walked AJ Wilson. Kiser then hit a fly ball to right field that was dropped. The error allowed Marion to score and both Wilson and Kiser to creep into scoring position.
The game was stopped due to lightning when Cameron Whitaker had a 1-1 count. When the game resumed more than two hours later, it looked as if Whitaker hadn’t missed a beat. He slugged the ball to left-center field for a two-RBI single. Whitaker was called out, however, when he tried to advance to second. With just one inning in the books, East Surry led 3-0.
The Maroon Devils record their first hit of the night on a single from Caleb Taylor. Taylor’s hit rolled into right field. The Cards’ right fielder tried to throw Taylor out at first, but the toss soared past the first baseman and gave Taylor an easy path to second base. But he sat in scoring position as Kiser struck out his next three teammates to bat.
Colby Guy started the bottom of the second with a grounder to shortstop. The fielder bobbled the ball and then proceeded to chuck it over first base. The ball rolled out of play and moved Guy to second. Back-to-back hits by Marion and Garrett Willoughby extended the Cardinals’ lead to 5-0 going into the third.
East didn’t have to wait long to bat again, thanks to Kiser’s three consecutive strikeouts. Whitaker and Tyler Chilton got on base with singles. Nick Shoffner bunted toward first with the intention of advancing both runners, but an error at first kept Shoffner safe and allowed Whitaker to stretch the lead to 6-0.
With Trevor Hauser up to bat, Shoffner stole second. The throw to second went into the outfield, allowing pinch-runner Chase Hewitt to score. The lead increased to eight when Marion hit an RBI double. Next, Willoughby was walked before he and Marion each stole to get on second and third, respectively.
A two-RBI single from Wilson gave East Surry a double-digit lead. Wilson himself scored when a line drive from Kiser was dropped. The Cardinals’ final run of the evening came on an RBI single from Whitaker to score Zach Robertson, who ran for Kiser.
Hunter Call gave the Devils hit number two of their night with a single. But just like Swain’s first hit, it was followed by three strikeouts from Kiser.
East Surry made a number of substitutions in the bottom of the fourth. Jefferson Boaz led off and was awarded a base on balls. Boaz was out on a fielder’s choice hit from Gage Black. A single from Robertson put Black in scoring position, and a fielding error put Wilson on first to load the bases. A strikeout ended the inning before the lead could be pushed to 13.
Eli Bullington took the mound for the fifth inning and promptly ended the game. Bullington’s three strikeouts on three batters eliminated Swain County and put the Cardinals through to the next round.
East Surry will host the eighth-seeded East Wilkes Cardinals (12-12) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith