MURPHY — It was time for the revenge of the Bulldogs on Friday night.
For the third time this season, Mount Airy and Murphy met in a state playoff showdown. The first two came with a spot in the state championship on the line, as the Granite Bears conquered the Bulldogs in both football and women’s basketball. The third showdown came in the second round of the 1A state playoffs, as unbeaten Murphy hosted Mount Airy in baseball.
Round three went to the Smoky Mountain Conference champions in a knockout. The second-seeded Bulldogs beat the Bears 13-0 to end Mount Airy’s baseball season with an 11-10 overall record.
Murphy (23-0), the state’s third-ranked 1A team according to MaxPreps.com, entered the contest having averaged 13.4 runs per game in winning their first 22 games of the season and nearly met their average against the Bears, who weren’t able to get the timely hitting and strong defense they would have needed to pull the upset of the Bulldogs.
Mount Airy didn’t want for chances to make a dent in the armor of the host school, which hasn’t played a game decided by less than eight runs since the second week of March. In the first inning, the Bears got runners to second and third base with only one out against Bulldog ace Caleb Irwin, a senior who came in with a 1.03 ERA for the season. Irwin, one of two 2017 All-State players on the Murphy roster, fanned two straight batters to escape the jam.
Trouble started brewing right away for the Bears. With one out in the bottom half of the second inning, Jeremiah Clark doubled. Joey Curry, the Bulldogs’ other All-Stater, singled to center and it was 1-0 in favor of the home team. Mount Airy starter Cooper Nester retired the next two batters to leave it at a 1-0 game.
Irwin led off the Murphy second inning with a solo home run. The Bulldogs added a second run after Travis Seabolt drew a one-out walk. Nester got the lead runner on a fielder’s choice for the second out, but then Lucas Barolet hit a long double that fell just short of the fence, driving in Murphy’s third run before he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Jacob Dodd tried to rally the Bears, drawing a leadoff walk to begin the Mount Airy half of the third inning. However, the next two players made outs before Luke Welch singled to right field and put runners on the corners. Alex Hall had the Bears’ second golden opportunity to get some runs on the board, but Irwin struck him out.
The bottom half of the third inning was a disaster that spelled doom for Mount Airy’s season. The Bulldogs sent 13 batters to the plate and scored seven runs. The worst part about it if you were a Bear fan was that Murphy was helped by three costly errors and that four of the seven runs were unearned. The big blow for Murphy was a grand slam by Irwin with no one out that extended his team’s lead from 4-0 to 8-0. The Bulldogs had already scored one run thanks to hits by Curry and Nathan Barolet, and two errors by Mount Airy. Bears head coach Jon Cawley pulled Nester after the grand slam and put in Hall, who got what should have been the third out. However, because it wasn’t, Murphy continued the hitting with two more hits, a double steal that made it 9-0, another error and two more hits after that, ending the frame with a commanding 11-0 lead.
Nester singled with one out in the fourth for the Bears, but that was Mount Airy’s last hurrah. Murphy added three more runs in the third, aided by yet another error, and Nathan Barolet closed out the game in the fifth for the Bulldogs with a 1-2-3 inning.
Murphy, which was the 1A state runner-up last year, will host either Pine Lake Prep or Mountain Island Charter on Tuesday in the third round.
Six Mount Airy seniors completed their careers in this game, those being Nester, Clay Taylor, Ryan Edwards, Robert Brown, Cole Sexton and Simon Cawley.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.