Mustangs on Brink of Repeat
North Moore proved the tournament magic is still there with dramatic wins over fourth-seeded Chatham Central and regular-season Yadkin Valley Conference champ South Davidson on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"Here we go again," Mustang head baseball coach Bob Collins said after star lefty Steven Davis mowed down 15 Chatham batters in a six-hit, 7-3 complete-game victory over the Bears at Bear Creek in first-round action Tuesday night.
It was the second straight year North Moore eliminated Chatham in the tourney after being swept during the regular season. The only difference between this year and last was that the Mustangs eliminated then top seed Chatham in the second round. This year the Bears were tied for third in the conference.
In the second round, North Moore knocked out regular-season champion South Davidson 5-4 at Siler City on Wednesday behind left-hander J.T. Garner's seven-hit complete game.
Garner struck out seven and walked none in one of his best games of the season. Only a couple of costly errors made the game tight at the end.
"I'll tell you what," Collins said, "he was ready to go yesterday, and gosh almighty, I'm so proud of that youngster. I wasn't going to pull him. I told him, 'We're going to win it or lose it with you.'"
Ultimately, Garner won it for Collins and his Mustang teammates with a gutsy seventh inning that included the biggest out in the biggest game of his life.
The Wildcats had pulled within 5-4 by virtue of a couple of base hits and a costly error in the sixth inning.
Then South led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, and with two outs added a Barry Coldfelter single that represented the go-ahead run. Garner bore down and struck out South's No. 2 hitter to put North Moore into Thursday night's championship game with regular-season second-place finisher Jordan-Matthews at Siler City.
In both games the Mustangs spotted their higher seeded opponents a couple of first inning runs, forcing them to come from behind to win. A pair of nine-hit performances turned the trick both nights.
Tuesday, against Chatham, Davis got into trouble via his only walk of the night and a couple of base hits that gave the Bears an early 2-0 lead.
"Once he (Davis) got in his rhythm after that first inning, he pitched well," Collins said. "We changed his mechanics a little. We made just one change and it made a difference.
"Then we did the little things right tonight. We bunted the ball right, and we got squeezes down right. I'm happy."
Before the tournament, Collins, in a move that paid off, called up Levi Morris, Corey Crabtree and Jonathan Henley from the Mustang junior varsity squad.
Morris laid down a one-out, bases-loaded squeeze bunt that scored courtesy runner Josh Sheffield for an insurance run in the top of the fifth inning. Sheffield had replaced Davis, who had been intentionally walked, on the base paths.
"He (Morris) knows his role," Collins said, "and that's his role. We needed to move a runner up and we know he can do it. He did what he had to do."
Davis also helped his own cause with a third inning, two-out run-scoring single that plated Lyle Barnett, who had tripled, for North Moore's first run.
The Mustangs manufactured three more runs in the top of the fourth to take a 4-2 advantage that would have held up. Two runs in the top of the fifth, and another in the sixth, made it academic.
The Bears touched Davis for a run in the bottom of the sixth that made the score 7-3, and led off the bottom of the seventh with an Aaron Brown single. But that was all she wrote. Davis struck out the next three batters to end the game with a flourish.
"It was the first time I've ever beat them (Chatham Central)," Davis said, "and it was the first time we beat them since last year in the tournament. We've only beat them twice since I've been here. I think I was 0-7 against them till now, so it feels pretty good. I wish I could have cut down on the hits some. But good teams like them are going to hit the ball anyway. I'm glad it was only six hits instead of six runs.
"If our hitting stays like it is for the rest of the season we're going to make a run for the state, I hope. Coach has been preaching short swing. We started doing it and you see what started happening. Everybody made the routine plays when it was hit at them, and all of them got key kits, sacrifices, and squeezes. All the fundamentals we did got the win."
Wednesday night Garner survived a two-run bottom of the first on the way to his big win. Dustin Martin got one of the runs back after singling to lead off the second. He made it to second on a passed ball, took third on a Cody Johnson single and scored on a fielder's choice grounder from designated hitter Colton Maness.
It stayed 2-1 until the top of the fourth inning. With two out and no one on, Shad Painter had a two-strike single. Johnson and Maness followed with singles that loaded the bases. Then Sean Gilmore scored them all with a triple to center field that made the score 4-2.
Courtesy runner Harold Chandler then raced home after a wild pitch for what would prove to be the game-winner.
"We played well and we beat a good baseball team tonight," Collins said. "They (South Davidson) won the regular season, so, I'm pleased. We hit the ball, so I'm happy. I'm proud of them.
"We're going to enjoy this tonight, come back tomorrow and see if we can get J-M."
The Mustangs split a pair of regular-season games with Jordan-Matthews, the tournament championship opponent. Thursday night North Moore went back to Siler City in an attempt to prove lightning could strike twice in the YVC tournament.
Just like last season, a home game in the first round of the state 1A playoffs was at stake.
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