Topsail celebrated advancing to the 3A East Regional final in its first year as a 3A member by having alums, who represented six past teams that enjoyed success in the 1A and 2A divisions, throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Then Topsail’s current players punctuated the big day with a 10-6 win over South Johnston in the first game of the best-of-three series played Tuesday night on the Pirates’ seaside field. The series resumes with Game 2 at 7 p.m. Thursday at South Johnston.
Through four innings, Topsail’s Clark Cota and South Johnston’s Joe Johnson were locked in a pitcher’s duel. The first four innings were played quicker than the final 2-and-a-half.
Cota had allowed only one hit and Johnson two after four, but one of Topsail’s two hits was Mason Berne’s three-run blast 330 feet to left-center field with the ocean breeze blowing out. His homer provided a 3-0 lead en route to a 6-1 advantage after five innings.
The Trojans’ finally touched up Cota and knocked him out of the game in the top of the sixth with five runs. The big blow was a two-run double by shortstop Josh Stikeleather for a 6-6 tie. South Johnston’s Joey Matthews singled and scored and Cody Allen had an RBI single and scored as part of the inning.
In all, six Trojans scored on the night.
But the rally didn’t stand up.
Topsail’s first three batters loaded the bases on a two singles and a throwing error on a bunt. Trader Flora followed with a grand slam 365 feet to center field. Flora looked at a 1-2 pitch over the plate that was called low for a ball to jeers from the South Johnston crowd. Flora connected on the next pitch.
“There were a lot of fireworks in this game,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said. “They got a couple of big swings at key times in the game. But I was proud of our kids for the way they battled back in hostile territory. They stayed in the game and found a way to get back in it.”
A vocal crowd of 500-plus fans turned out. In addition to the bleachers filled, Topsail’s fans lined the fence down the first base and left field side, sometimes standing five and six deep. The visiting South Johnston fans were well represented two and three deep on the opposite side.
Before fans left the park, the public address announcer promoted $10 tickets for a bus ride to Thursday game at South Johnston.
“We’ll be back with all our guys ready to go on a Thursday,” Durham said.