Southern Lee will wish it had this one back. The good news is that the Cavaliers get another chance today.
Host J.H. Rose had to come from behind in Tuesday’s first game of the best-of-3 series for the NCHSAA 3A East Regional baseball title, walking off a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single from Alex Popovich with one out in the inning.
Southern, which had faced Rose in the second round of last year’s playoffs and lost 10-0, proved much more competitive in its first trip to Greenville since then. The Cavaliers (18-9) scored four runs in the third inning to erase an early 3-0 deficit and led until the fifth, when the Rampants tied the game at 4. Neither team could score in the sixth or seventh, but Rose (25-3) put itself in position to win in the eighth, after pitcher Davis Hathaway set the Cavaliers down 1-2-3 in the top half of the inning.
Kale Scruggs, who had come on to pitch for Southern in the top of the seventh, came back out for the eighth and struck out the first batter. However, Wyatt Fagundus singled and then Ives Howard walked on five pitches. Scruggs got ahead 0-2 to Popovich, but then he found a hole on the right side of the infield and punched through a base hit that drove in Fagundus for the Rampants’ 12th consecutive victory. Southern right fielder Cooper Moss made an excellent throw home to make it dicey for the home team, but Cavalier catcher Ashton Donathan couldn’t corral it and apply a tag.
Southern Lee will need to win tonight’s Game 2 at Tramway Park to keep the series, and its 2023 season, alive. If the Cavaliers can pull it off, the teams will decide the series Saturday back at Rose’s Guy Smith Stadium. Both games, if necessary, are slated to begin at 6 p.m.
The game was as even as the score suggested. Rose outhit the Cavaliers 10-9, but Southern committed just one error to three for the Rampants. Ultimately, Rose did just a little better job of capitalizing on its chances, and this made the difference.
Southern’s Donathan and Pierce Bouwman had back-to-back singles with one out in the first inning, but Rampant starting pitcher Hugh Collins got the next two outs and escaped the jam. Cooper Harrington, who started for the Cavaliers, was not so fortunate in his half of the opening inning. Bouwman misplayed a grounder to start the inning and let the leadoff man on. The runner moved up to second moments later and then Hunter Pope singled to drive him in. After a second Rose hit with two out in the inning, Harrington whiffed Fagundus for a second out that should have been the third, but it wasn’t, and Howard singled on an 0-2 pitch to drive in two more runs.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, the Rampants offered the same help in the top of the third. Spencer Stephens led off by reaching on an error, and Harrington followed with a single to put runners on the corners. When he subsequently stole second base, Rose shortstop Popovich kicked it and Stephens scored. Collins struck out Donathan, but not before uncorking two wild pitches that also brought in Harrington to make it 3-2. The Cavaliers then pressed the attack with Bouwman drawing a walk, followed by a single from Jalan Jones and an RBI single from Scruggs to tie it. Pope, playing third for Rose, kicked a grounder from Moss and Jones scored to make it 4-3 Southern.
But the Cavaliers could have had more. Marcus-Tate Blanks singled to load the bases, but the next two Southern batters made outs and couldn’t advance any of the runners in the process.
Nothing more happened until the fifth, when Hope walked on a full-count pitch, then moved to second on a passed ball with two out. Mitch Jones singled to tie the game.
Caleb Waters led off the Southern half of the inning with a single, but then Collins struck out out the side and the runner never got past second base. Popovich singled for the Rampants in their half of the inning, but Harrington bore down and got the last two outs. Bouwman then led off the seventh with a walk, but with one down, Scruggs erased him on a double play grounder. Donathan then threw out a would-be basestealer at second to end the seventh and send the game to extra innings.
Bouwman had a perfect day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. Marcus Tate-Blanks also had two hits, going 2-for-4.
Harrington threw 102 pitches over six innings, allowing seven hits but striking out eight. All four runs against him were unearned.
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