Raiders Shut Down Patriots
A bid by the Pinecrest baseball team to gain sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference was denied by streaking Richmond Senior in Rockingham Tuesday evening.
The Patriots were defeated 6-0 behind a three-hit pitching performance by senior Ryan Mercer. The win was the ninth win in a row for the Raiders and the first against the Pats in eight tries since the 2009 season.
Coach Jeff Hewitt’s squad dropped to 5-3 in the league and 13-7 overall, while the Raiders improved to 7-2 and 18-4. The Pats complete regular-season play against Hoke County at home on Thursday. Senior Night action begins at 6 p.m. with the completion of a suspended game they led 4-0 through the top of the fourth inning in Raeford on March 30.
Patriot wins in that game and in the regularly scheduled one that follows, coupled with a Richmond loss to first place Scotland High, would put the Patriots in a flat-footed tie for second place. Based on precedents, it is likely a drawing would be held to determine the second seed for next week’s conference tournament.
Afterward Hewitt talked to his players about an “awesome opportunity” and urged them and especially the team’s six seniors to “play hungry.”
“They (Raiders) played like a good baseball team,” the coach said. “We didn’t play good enough to win a baseball game — no ifs, ands or buts. We’re a little disappointed, but we have to play Thursday and play two quality games. We’ve got to stay positive and we have to keep believing.”
The Patriots threatened to take the lead in the second and third innings. In fact they had every reason to believe they had it in the second before the change of a decision by the umpires took two runs off the scoreboard.
The Patriots’ only solid base hit of the night, a single to left by starting pitcher Matt Epley with two out in the second, was followed by a Raider infield error. Alan Watson then hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled fair by the home plate umpire after being chased by the Raiders’ Mikey Steele.
Both base runners scored, giving the Patriots the temporary 2-0 lead. Raider coach Ricky Young came out of the dugout to protest the call. The umpires huddled.
According to Hewitt, based upon the base umpire’s opinion that the ball was never touched by the right fielder in fair territory, the call was reversed — certainly not a totally satisfactory explanation for the visitors. Mercer then fanned Watson to end the inning.
Hewitt’s postgame comments to his players addressed the affect the adversity might have had on them.
“I think it did a little bit,” Patriot senior Matt Eddy said. “It certainly didn’t help. No one liked it is all I can say.”
Bunt singles by Cam Embler and Tristan Helms leading off the third, put Mercer in trouble again. But the right-hander escaped, going on to retire 15 of the last 16 batters he faced in the game.
The home side manufactured the only run it needed in the bottom of the third on an infield error, a sacrifice bunt by Drew Butler and single grounded over the first-base bag by Bradley Brown.
The roof fell in on the Pats in the bottom of the fourth. A hit batter, three walks and a two-run single by Brown added up to three runs against Epley and two relievers, making it 4-0. The Raiders added their final two runs in the sixth.
Mercer wasn’t overpowering, striking out four, but the Patriots hit few balls hard. Four of the outs were come-backers to the mound.
“I guess there was just something about him,” said Eddy, who was 0-for-2 after coming into the game batting .529. “We didn’t seem to be barreling the ball up. He did a good job out there. He shut us out.
“I think everyone is going to come out ready to win on Thursday, ready to play their butts off because we don’t like losing.”
The Patriots wore pink jerseys to support the “Swinging for Pink” game inspired by center-fielder Smith’s mother, Caryla, who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the start of the season. The Raiders escaped an upset by Hoke on Monday, overcoming a 7-2 deficit in the final two innings to win 8-7.
Scotland improved to 7-0 in the conference with a 6-4 win over Lumberton on Tuesday.
R H E
Pinecrest 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 3 2
Richmond 0 0 1 3 0 2 x — 6 5 2
Epley, Reimer (4), Mace (4) and Bullard; Mercer and Williamson. WP - Mercer LP – Epley; Leading hitters – (P) Epley 1-3, Helms 1-3, C. Embler 1-3 (RS) Brown 3-3, 3 RBI
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