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Eastern Eagles shock Southern in opener of state baseball playoffs

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By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

The long odds didn’t faze Eastern Alamance’s baseball team Tuesday night.

The Eagles pulled off a monumental upset in the first round of the Class 3-A state playoffs, stunning fifth-seeded Southern Alamance 13-8 with a big seventh-inning rally in the East Region game.

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“It’s really crazy,” said Eastern’s Jarrett Newell, who was the starting pitcher and drove in four runs. “We knew we could win and always had a shot.”

Eastern’s Jarrett Newell

But as the No. 28 seed that had lost both regular-season meetings with eventual Central 3-A Conference champion Southern, the Eagles showed up without a junior or senior on the roster.

That didn’t matter as the Eagles plated five runs in the last inning to snap a tie.

“They’ll just keep fighting and battling back,” Eastern coach Caleb Robinson said of his team. “It doesn’t matter who has been the better team all year.”

Newell kept the Patriots in check until Southern got rolling with five runs in the fourth inning for a 5-2 edge. The Eagles responded with three runs in each of the next two innings before Southern tied the score with three in the sixth.

In the seventh, bases-loaded walks to Rett Page, Tyler Westbrook, and Braxton Ballard accounted for Eastern’s first three runs before Newell’s sacrifice fly and Kasen McGinnis’ run-scoring single. Reliever Zack Merchel finished the upset from the mound.

“It’s fun,” Newell said. “We just got out there and competed.”

It was a quite an accomplishment for a team that might not have made the playoffs if not for last week’s non-conference victory against Northern Durham.

“We’ve been playing good ball lately,” Robinson said. “If we could just get in (the playoffs), we’d have a shot. We’ve really stayed true to what we’re doing.”

Eastern (9-15) plays Friday night at No. 12 seed Orange (18-5), which used a seven-run bottom of the seventh, capped by Ryan Honeycutt’s three-run home run, to overcome No. 21 seed Cedar Ridge 7-4 in another matchup between Central 3-A Conference teams. Orange topped Eastern twice last week in league play.

Southern (15-7) gave up a double-figure run total for the fourth time this season.

“They had no pressure. We, as a (No.) 5 seed, had pressure and didn’t handle it,” Patriots coach Jason Smith said. “They had no pressure and played like it. We gave them opportunities and they took them.”

Newell’s big outing included a solo home run in the first inning for his third long ball of the year and a two-run single in the sixth. Teammate James Wellons had an RBI single in the second and Conner Horner roped a two-run double to center field in the fifth.

Southern’s offense was sparked by Mark King’s run-scoring double, starting pitcher Braxton Cain’s two-run single and Johnny Rojas’ sacrifice fly in the fourth. Rojas drove in a run with a sixth-inning double, and the Patriots pulled even on Ethan Mann’s fielder’s choice grounder.

Long-time Eastern assistant coach Jeff Modlin is in his final season. As the Eagles packed up to head back to Mebane, Merchel walked by.

“Hey, Modlin,” Merchel said. “You’re not done yet.”

  • Southern beat visiting Western Alamance 17-2 a week ago Wednesday and 7-1 the next night at Western Alamance for a share of the league title with Orange.

Then in Friday night’s non-league home game vs. South Granville, the Patriots trailed 2-1 in the fifth inning when the game was halted because of weather and never completed.

On Saturday, Orange and Southern Alamance were slated for a tiebreaker game to determine the automatic bid to the state playoffs, but that matchup at Southeast Alamance was delayed and then called off because of field conditions.

Southern was awarded the best seed for a Central 3-A Conference team based on an off-field tiebreaker formula.

“A great season and we’ll see that once we step back from (Tuesday night),” Smith said.

  • A seven-game winning streak for Williams ended with a 13-4 home loss to Roxboro Person in a Central 3-A Conference finale Friday night. Still, the Bulldogs (17-5, 6-4) finished in third place.

For the Class 3-A state playoffs, Williams is seeded No. 13, but Tuesday’s home game against No. 20 seed Southern Wayne (14-8) was postponed because of field conditions.

The teams were scheduled to play Wednesday night at Elon University’s Latham Park. The winner plays Friday at fourth-seeded Fayetteville Sanford (23-5), which eliminated Havelock 4-2.

  • No. 30 seed Western Alamance lost 12-4 at third-seeded Cape Fear (24-4) on Tuesday. The Warriors (9-16) ended the season on a four-game losing streak.

 

Class 1-A

No. 29 seed River Mill lost 10-0 in five innings at fourth-seeded East Wake Academy (14-4) on Tuesday. The Jaguars finished with a 9-12 record.

Clover Garden (15-5), as the No. 14 seed, had its game vs. No. 19 seed Oxford Prep (14-6) postponed Tuesday at Eastern Alamance. The teams were scheduled to try again Wednesday night.

In last week’s Central Tar Heel 1-A Conference Tournament, second-place Clover Garden knocked off regular-season champion Chatham Charter 5-4 in 10 innings in the tournament final. The Grizzlies’ Brayden Dealto had four hits, Lucas Roney drove in two runs, and Jackson Brannock scored two runs. Roney and Ethan Saunders handled the pitching for Clover Garden.

 

NC Independent Schools Athletic Association

Two-time reigning state champion The Burlington School (12-9) and Burlington Christian Academy (16-5-1) received first-round byes in Class 2-A.

Unseeded BCA was slated for a Wednesday date at seventh-seeded Wayne Christian (8-7) in Goldsboro.

On Thursday, TBS has a second-round game against Hickory Christian (11-3), a 9-8 winner Tuesday against Salam Baptist (7-10).

BCA and TBS split two meetings last week.

TBS won 10-4 at Burlington Athletic Stadium with Davis Phillips driving in four runs, and Tristian Reives and Jason Johnson both knocked in two runs. Cooper Kelly pitched four shutout innings for the Spartans, though later BCA’s Mark Primm homered and Cohen Payne drove in two runs.

BCA avenged that outcome by winning 7-1 in a game played at Eastern Guilford with J.D. Mace throwing a four-hitter with eight strikeouts. Nathan Rose drove in two runs.

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