FOUR OAKS — With the baseball regular season coming to a close, many teams are jockeying for potential playoff berths or possible conference championships. That reality holds true in the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference.
South Johnston entered its tilt against Cleveland Wednesday night very much in control of its own destiny in terms of winning the league championship while the Rams started the night needing both a win and some help from other teams to assure itself of a state playoff bid.
In a must-win game, Cleveland decided to put its fate in the hands of ace pitcher Kodi Whitley. It was a wise decision.
The senior struck out 15 batters en route to an important complete game 6-0 win over the Trojans to keep the Rams very much in the playoff hunt.
It was Cleveland’s fifth win in its last six games with the lone defeat being a tough 2-1 loss at Southern Wayne.
“We’ve started to play our best baseball at the end; that’s the best time to play it,” said Whitley. “We had to win this game and we came up big and won.”
Cleveland jumped on the Trojans from the onset as Trevor Poole, Alan Stephenson and Whitley all drove in runs in the first inning for an early 3-0 advantage.
It was all the support Whitley would need as the right-hander mixed up the speed and location of his pitches all night long to confound South Johnston batters.
“He was tremendous,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said of Whitley. “He threw a heck of a ball game and kept us off balance.
“Cleveland and Kodi just dictated the game tonight.”
Taylor Finn and Poole finished the game with a pair of hits each to lead the Rams.
Trojan starting pitcher Lane Johnson allowed five runs on seven hits in six innings of work and recorded a pair of singles himself.
The Trojans (15-6 overall, 7-3 ECC) still have a home-and-home series with Triton with a possible league championship on the line. Just a half game behind Pikeville C.B. Aycock in the standings, a pair of wins would guarantee at least a share of the title.
“We still kind of control our own destiny,” said Durham. “Going into the last week, to even have a shot at winning it or sharing it is great. We’ve got to find a way to close it out.”
For Cleveland (11-10, 6-6), anything from a third place to sixth place finish is a possibility as Eastern Wayne, Southern Wayne and Triton could all finish with an identical conference record to the Rams, who finished the season having split their series with every other ECC member.
“We’ve done our part,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee. “Now we just have to wait and see what happens with the other games.”