One team hadn’t played in two weeks, while the other was on its fifth game in eight days. There was little doubt which was which on Tuesday night.
Visiting North Stokes capitalized on five errors, six walks, three balks and other assorted miscues committed by host Mount Airy, and cruised to a 7-2 victory behind a dominant pitching performance from junior Jake Craddock. Craddock handcuffed the Granite Bears (6-5, 1-4 Northwest 1A Conference) on one hit for 6 1/3 innings before leaving due to the NCHSAA-mandated pitch count. Tristan Chaney allowed a second hit and an unearned run which was charged to Craddock, but got out of the inning with no further damage.
Craddock struck out 14 Mount Airy batters and had a no-hitter going until Cooper Nester singled to right with two out in the bottom of the sixth. The hit drove in Ryan Edwards, who had drawn a full-count walk leading off the inning. However, the Bears already trailed 5-1 by this time.
Mount Airy spent much of the night giving the Vikings (14-3, 3-0 NW1A) help that they didn’t need. Bear starter Cory Dutton was saddled with four unearned runs due to his teammates’ shaky defense, and the trouble started early on. In the top of the first inning, North Stokes scored two runs with two out. Layton Helms and Jody Bullins followed with back-to-back hits for the Vikings, but two Mount Airy errors that followed resulted in both runners crossing home plate.
The visitors added a third run in the second inning. Dustin Bowman reached on an error leading off, moved to second on a balk, and then scored on a one-out single by Craddock.
Meanwhile, the Bears kept getting runners on base by drawing walks against Craddock, but could never square up the ball and hit the Viking hurler. Mount Airy had runners in scoring position in every inning but the fourth thanks to six walks and two hit batsmen, but couldn’t get any hits.
About the only thing that the Bears had going for them was strong outfield defense. Luke Welch made a running catch in left field on a blooper with two on and one out in the fourth that helped Dutton out of a jam with two runners on base. Later in the game, Evan Dorsett had a similar catch in right field that deprived the Vikings of a hit.
However, Mount Airy’s offensive woes continued. Four straight batters struck out in the fourth and fifth innings before Robert Brown was plunked and Welch walked. But with two out, Craddock whiffed Baylor Brinkley to end the threat.
Stokes extended its lead in the sixth inning, when Bowman led off with a walk and Ben Chesnet followed by reaching on a sacrifice bunt after the Bears threw the ball away. With runners at the corners, Mount Airy coach Jon Cawley changed pitchers, going to Alex Hall. Hall struck out the first man he faced, but then uncorked a wild pitch that scored Bowman. With Chesnet now on third base, Isaiah East was able to plate him with a sacrifice fly.
The Vikings answered the Bears’ run in the sixth with two more of their own in the top of the seventh. With two down, Noah Smith struck out but reached on a passed ball. Things went from bad to worse for the hosts when Koby Clark hit a ball deep into the shortstop hole and Mount Airy’s Clay Taylor tried to make the play. Taylor had made a similar play earlier in the game, but this time, his attempt at a skip throw went past first base and allowed Smith to score. A balk and two wild pitches later brought Clark home as well for a 7-1 Stokes advantage.
Brown reached on an error to open the Mount Airy half of the seventh, but Craddock struck out the next man before Viking head coach Steven Sauer had to pull him due to pitch count. With Chaney on the mound, Brown stole second base. With one out, Eli Stroup smashed a hard liner into center field for a clean hit and drove Brown in. Cole Sexton came in to run and Edwards drew a walk, but Dorsett flew out to end the game.
The Bears will try to get back on track when they visit North Surry tonight.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.