With two weeks to go in the regular season, both of coach Shaughn Neal’s goals for his Carrboro Jaguars baseball team are still within reach.
The first, in his words, was to “win the area.” That meant winning the season series from district rivals Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill, which is still an uphill battle.
The other was to win the Mid-State Conference, which looks more promising.
On Wednesday, not only did Carrboro (9-7, 6-1) beat Burlington Cummings 6-3 behind a one-hitter from Nick Wilhelm – making his first start and just his third pitching appearance – but Neal got a game strange enough to look back and laugh about whenever his coaching career ends.
In the top of the second inning, the home plate umpire left the game when a fast ball slammed against his left arm. He was taken directly to UNC Hospitals.
Since it was a two-man crew, the field umpire had to call ball and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before, except for scrimmages,” said Neal.
Leaving one umpire in charge of an entire baseball field is an achievable chore, just as long as there aren’t any bang-bang calls – which there were.
With Cummings (1-10, 0-7) leading 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth, shortstop Alex Gilligan laced a two-run line drive up the middle. Ethan Foy scored despite a close tag laid down by catcher Homero Hernandez, and the umpire had to make the call 70 feet away from the plate.
That led to a four-run fourth, which included Gilligan scoring off a passed ball and Aidan Jensen coming across after reaching on an error; Jensen scored when an errant throw from left field wound up nearly going into the Carrboro dugout.
Wilhelm’s one-hitter was adventurous. He struck out nine Cavaliers, walked seven, hit a batter and even retired a batter on a rare offensive interference call.
“He put himself in spots by throwing balls and being inconsistent,” said Neal. “But by the fourth inning, he settled down and finally found the zone.”
Neal’s regular starters are Skylar Furey, Collin Andres and Ben West, but he wanted Wilhelm on the hill against the Cavaliers because of looming conference games against Jordan-Matthews and Reidsville.
With two conference games remaining, the Jaguars are in first place in the Mid-State Conference, leading Reidsville (8-8, 6-2) by one-half game and Jordan-Matthews (4-13, 4-3) by two.
(Note: Carrboro played Jordan-Matthews on Friday, too late for Sunday’s CHN. See maxpreps.com for results.)
The Jaguars close their regular season May 1 at home against Reidsville in a game that, at present, looks like it will decide the conference race. For now, Carrboro can focus this week on a local rival as well as the Mid-State pennant chase.
On Wednesday, the Jaguars travel to East Chapel Hill, which defeated Carrboro 8-7 on March 26. Neal, in his second year at Carrboro, was a former assistant under veteran East head coach Phil Woodell.
Neal believes the Jaguars are headed in the right direction.
“To be where we are now is exactly what I wanted,” said Neal. “As long as we continued to battle and stay consistent for seven innings, we should be able to accomplish one of our goals.
“We’ve found an identity with this team now, and the kids are buying into it.”