An adage you often hear about playoff baseball at the high school level is that you’re only as good as your pitcher that day.
On Wednesday, North Surry’s Mack Cooke was outstanding. Unfortunately, Robbie Cowie of Lincolnton was even better.
Cowie won a tight pitcher’ duel in which both starters went the distance on Wednesday night at The Kennel, lifting his Wolves to a 1-0 victory in the opening round of the 2A state playoffs. He allowed just one hit, a two-out single by Mason Gwyn in the third inning, while striking out 12 with two walks.
Cooke, who entered the game with a 1.94 ERA and actually lowered it with his performance on Wednesday night, pitched well enough to win on almost any other night. He allowed just five hits, one of which came on a ball that was lined off his own body, and allowed just one run, which came in the top of the fourth inning.
Cowie, the Wolves’ third-place hitter, led off his team’s fourth with a single that was only Lincolnton’s second hit of the game. He stole second base to get into scoring position, but Cooke got Mack Bowden and Caleb Martin to hit weak pop-ups and looked set to get out of trouble. Unfortunately for him and for the Hounds, the Wolves’ EJ Manjarris lined a 2-0 pitch for an RBI single and gave the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The Wolves put two runners on base in the fifth inning as well, with P.A. Masters leading off with a walk and advancing on a sacrifice bunt. With two down, Lane Hoover singled to right and Masters came dashing toward home plate, but Gwyn recovered the ball quickly and fired home to catcher Clay Tompkins for the out at home.
This was a chance for the Greyhounds to seize the momentum, but Cowie wasn’t having it. He struck out two of the three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 bottom half of the inning, then did the same in the sixth.
Martin led off the seventh for the Wolves with a hit, but Cooke picked him off first. Then Manjarres drilled a line drove off Cooke and got a hit out of it, but Tompkins threw him out trying to steal. Cooke struck out Masters and the Hounds came up for their final swings of the night.
It wasn’t to be. Dominant to the end, Cowie struck out the last two men of the game for the Hounds. He threw just 92 pitches in the game, 63 of them for strikes.
The Hounds had very few chances to get on the board. Kobe Slate led off the game by walking on five pitches, but Bowden threw him out trying to steal. After Gwyn singled in the third, the next batter popped up to third to end the inning. Tompkins led off the fifth with a full-count walk, but Cowie set down 12 straight batters from that point to end the game.
North Surry ends the season with a 19-7 record. Lincolnton, the third-place team from the South Fork Conference, won its first state playoff game since the 1997 season. The Wolves will travel to Smoky Mountain (19-3), champs of the Mountain Six Conference, on Saturday.