Wilson Hunt seizes Big East baseball tourney
May 4, 2012North Carolina
By Tom Ham, Wilson Times
WILSON - Times turned tense before the host Hunt High varsity baseball team attached the 3-A Big East Conference Tournament championship to its regular-season title on the Sid Boyette Field diamond on a dandy Thursday evening.
Alert and aggressive, the No. 1-seeded Warriors fired to a 9-0 cushion after three innings. But Hunt pitching faltered for the second straight tournament game and No. 2-seeded Nash Central had the potential tying run at bat in the bottom of the seventh inning before Hunt surfaced with a 10-8 victory.
The Warriors enter the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs at 16-7 and welcome either North Lenoir or Southern Wayne of the Eastern Carolina Conference next Thursday or Friday on newly named Sid Boyette Field — where they are undefeated in four outings.
Nash Central, in losing to Hunt for the third time in 2012, dipped to 10-12 and plays at home in the first round against either Jacksonville or West Carteret of the Coastal Conference.
“It could have been worse,” Hunt head coach Jon Smith said of the nail-biting finish. “It could have been that we didn’t get the big lead. You’ve got to keep it positive.”
Of reigning as the regular-season and tourney king, Smith responded: “We expect to win; we expected to be here. But it’s still important; it means a lot to us.”
Regardless of the outcome, the Warriors would have remained No. 1 and Nash Central No. 2 from the Big East.
“We didn’t come back enough,” assessed interim Bulldogs head coach Buck Edmundson. “We did it to ourselves. Those base-running errors ... we can’t have that. You just can’t have that kind of stuff happen if you expect to get anywhere in the playoffs.
“I’m just proud of the way we didn’t die. We kept chipping away, fighting.”
Hunt’s defense, again errorless, erased Bulldogs base runners on three occasions in the first three innings. In the second inning, a base runner was nabbed after rounding second base too far, and, in the same inning, another was picked off second base by starting Hunt pitcher Zack Williams, a junior right-hander. Left fielder Dillan Howard’s throw to third baseman Cody Pittman and Pittman’s strike to catcher Logan Butts nailed Jon Keel at home to end the third inning, Keel was attempting to score on third baseman Khalil Macklin’s single.
“That’s what we play for,” commented Butts, a senior. “That’s what we work on — pick-offs for big situations in big games. Their mistakes, we capitalized on.”
Pittman singled, stole second base and scored on senior shortstop Parker Lamm’s sacrifice fly to give Hunt a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
The Warriors sent 13 batters to the plate and benefitted from aggressive base-running in the eight-run uprising in the third. Right fielder Collan Braddy singled and Pittman beat out a bunt. Lamm laced a two-run double. Butts and designated hitter Jacob Lee added RBI singles in succession. Braddy hammered a two-run double and Howard singled to cap the uprising.
With the lead trimmed to 9-6, the Warriors added an insurance run in the sixth. Lamm reached on a fielder’s choice and came around on singles by first baseman Jacob Page and Butts, who batted 3 for 4 and drove in two runs.
A hit batsman led to Nash Central’s first run in the fourth and Williams, the winner, was lifted after facing one batter in the fifth. The Bulldogs then treated senior right-handed reliever Alex Nguyen roughly, striking for five runs in the fifth. Catcher Dillan Moore drilled a two-run double.
Nguyen breezed through the sixth, but, in the seventh, Nash Central cut the deficit to 10-8 on Colton Vaughan’s two-run double with one out. However, a grounder to second base resulted in the second out and Nguyen ended the game with his only strike out.
Butts cited the sunshine in the early innings and the heat that lingered late in the game.
“Very frustrating,” he declared. “The sun was beating me for a little while, but I fought through it. I feel the heat made us drag. Both of our pitchers’ velocity was not what it usually is.
“Still, they made big pitches when we needed them, and the defense played solid. They fought through it — we all did.”
But the celebration was brief.