DANBURY — There’s a saying that you can’t get a diamond without going through immense pressure. The East Surry Cardinals just survived another tough test on their road to a conference championship.
The Cards (17-1, 5-0) won their 11th straight game with a 3-2 over conference foe North Stokes. An RBI single from AJ Wilson in the top of the seventh broke a 2-2 tie and ultimately led to East’s victory.
“You have to like that there’s a little bit of resilience on the team,” said East Surry coach Chad Freeman.”
Tuesday’s game was a must-win for both squads. Conference play is winding down, and the two teams atop the leaderboard met in Danbury.
East Surry came into Tuesday’s game a perfect 4-0 in NW1A competition. North Stokes (14-5, 3-2) just suffered its first conference loss to Mount Airy on April 13.
The game itself was a near stalemate for the first three innings. The only Cardinal to get on base in this time was John Marion, who was walked as the game’s first batter. The Vikings’ Jake Craddock had two strikeouts in this span.
Craddock led off for the Vikings and was walked. He was joined by Layton Helms, who was walked as well. Wilson had two strikeouts over the next three batters to end the inning with North scoreless.
Christian Shemo had the second hit of the game for the Vikings with a double to open the bottom of the second. Wilson once again picked up two strikeouts and forced a fly-out to leave a North Stokes player in scoring position.
East Surry took the field after another hitless at-bat in the third inning. Helms got North Stokes in scoring position for the third straight inning, courtesy of a two-base error by the Cardinals.
Small mistakes piled up for East Surry and nearly caused the game to go the other way.
“There were some mental mistakes that almost cost us,” Freeman said. “I’ll blame that on the coach for not going over some stuff that we need to go over more frequently.”
The Cardinal defense didn’t allow another hit in the inning and sent the game into the fourth inning.
Garrett Willoughby grabbed the first hit for the Cards with a single in the top of the fourth. Willoughby was also the first Cardinal in scoring position after stealing second base.
Kain Kiser then hit a ground ball right at second base. An error by North Stokes let the ball roll into the outfield, allowing Willoughby to round the bases and put East up 1-0.
Nick Shoffner approached the plate and hammered the ball to the outfield. Kiser was able to score, and while the attention was at home Shoffner was able to get to third. The inning would end before Shoffner could cross the plate.
North Stokes yet again made it into scoring position after back-to-back singles. This time, the Cards’ infield made a fielder’s choice to get a runner out at third.
With runners on first and second, Wilson had consecutive strikeouts to keep the 2-0 lead intact heading into the top of the fifth.
The Cards carried their momentum into their next at-bat. Colby Guy hit a fly to right-center and got a double for his troubles. Marion was walked once more, joining Guy on base.
North ended the Cardinals’ hope of extending the lead and fought to take the lead themselves in the bottom of the fifth. Craddock and Helms were both in scoring position immediately with no outs.
With his back against a wall, Wilson’s next seven pitches went as follows: strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, ball, foul tip, strike.
The Cardinals just needed one more out to escape the current predicament. But a wild pitch allowed Craddock to come home and get the Vikings’ first run. Koby Clark, the batter when Craddock took home, reached via a Cardinal error, letting Helms cross the plate to tie the game at 2-2.
Both teams were fighting for the win at this point. East Surry had two hits to start the top of the sixth, but then proceeded to make three straight outs.
Seth Keener, who took the mound for East in the bottom of the sixth, only allowed two batters on base in the inning, both of which were via walk.
Marion, who had been walked twice prior, hit a triple in the top of the seventh. Marion stayed on third until there were two outs. This is when Wilson hit an RBI single to score Marion and give East the lead once more.
The run itself almost didn’t happen. North’s shortstop bobbled Wilson’s grounder. The throw to first was too close to call for the field umpire, but the plate umpire was able to point out that the first baseman’s foot wasn’t on the bag.
The last chance for North Stokes ended in three batters. Keener had a strikeout, and forced a ground-out and fly-out to give the Cardinals the win.
“Give credit to North Stokes, they came back and tied it up,” Freeman said. “We could’ve folded and let the pressure get to us at that point but we didn’t. [We] bounced back and found a way to win.”
Freeman continued, “We’ll keep working to get better because there are plenty of things to work on. But a win’s a win and we’ll take it.”
The Cards and Vikings will face each other once again on Friday at East Surry.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith