All of Lee County, including supporters of the other high school teams in the area, seemed to be out in force Thursday night to back the Cavaliers.
Southern Lee baseball was back at home for Game 2 of the NCHSAA 3A East Regional championship series, looking for a win to force a deciding third game back at J.H. Rose in Greenville for Saturday evening. The underdog Cavaliers, who made it to the regionals as a No. 6 seed after beginning the season 4-6, had plenty of support from the home folks.
Alas, someone always has to be the heavy, and on Thursday, he toed the mound for the Rose Rampants in the form of 6-foot-7 pitcher Andrew Wallen, a UNC-Chapel Hill recruit who still has one more year of high school to play after this one.
Wallen did everything but lead the cheers for state finals-bound Rose (26-3), and he’d have probably done that too if he’d spent more time in the dugout. His two-run home run in the top of the first inning gave the Rampants all the cushion he, and they, would need. He ended up going 3-for-3 with a walk, with two runs scored and two RBI. As a pitcher, he threw a complete-game two-hitter, striking out seven with two walks. He drove in Rose’s first two runs and scored their last in a 7-0 victory.
The Rampants’ one-man wrecking crew ended the Cavaliers’ season at 18-10. Southern’s remarkable season saw the team become the first Cavalier baseball team in the 18-year history of the program to reach a regional final. Southern Lee also won the 3A half of the Sandhills Athletic Conference, finished as SAC Tournament runner-up to 4A Pinecrest, and swept three meetings from arch-rival Lee County, something else no previous Cavalier team had ever done.
The end of the season brought the careers of five Southern Lee senior to an end. All five started the game—Pierce Bouwman, Kale Scruggs, Jalan Jones, Ashton Donathan, and DeeRay McLean. Their accomplishments this season will long be remembered by fans of Southern Lee baseball.
The Cavaliers began the season with high hopes and a new coach, as longtime youth baseball and later San-Lee Middle head coach Tommy Harrington brought his years of experience to the high school level. Harrington said in the preseason that Southern’s goal was to reach the state championship, and they very nearly made it.
After beating North Brunswick, First Flight, No. 3 seed Currituck and No. 2 seed Orange to make it to regionals, Southern opened the East finals at Rose on Tuesday and lost 5-4 in extra innings. The Cavaliers played well and led for a time in the middle innings, but losing it put them behind the eight-ball as the best-of-3 series moved to Tramway Park, as Wallen was looming and had not pitched in Game 1. He had worked six innings in an 8-2 quarterfinal win over Northern Nash on Saturday and came into Thursday’s game with four full days of rest.
It showed. Southern didn’t get so much as a baserunner until Donathan walked with one out in the fourth. The Cavaliers didn’t get a hit until Scruggs hit a ground single back up the middle with one down in the fifth.
By that time, Wallen had already given himself all the help he needed. After Hunter Pope had a one-out infield single against Bouwman, Wallen hit a 1-0 pitch off the light tower in left field, 375 feet from home plate, and the Rampants led 2-0.
Rose extended the lead to 3-0 in the second, thanks to a leadoff walk by Ives Howard and a two-out RBI double from Owen Boyd, who slashed a lazy fly toward the left-field corner that McLean just missed catching.
In the fourth, Wallen and Wyatt Fagundus both singled, and Howard hit a sacrifice fly that drove in a courtesy runner for Wallen.
Kale Scruggs took over on the mound for Southern in the fourth and proceeded to toss three scoreless innings, but Wallen was close to untouchable until the final half-inning of play, and by that time, it was out of reach even if the Cavaliers had scored. In the top of the seventh, the Rampants added three more runs against Scruggs, who was working on just a day’s rest and may have finally hit the wall. With two out in the inning, he allowed four straight hits, the last one a three-run double by Fagundus that made it 7-0.
In the bottom of the seventh, Donathan singled with one out and Bouwman drew a free pass. Jones just missed slicing a ball down the right-field line, but it went foul and then he grounded out a pitch later. Wallen struck out Scruggs to send the seven-time state champion Rampants back to the state championship series.
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