Cleveland baseball went a long way this season, taking a conference championship, earning the No. 1 seed in the East 3A bracket of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs and rolling to a 22-4 record.
But the dream season came to an end in the second round of the playoffs Friday night as the Rams lost to 17th-seed Topsail, 5-3.
“That was as good a high school game as you’ll see,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee. “Both teams battled but they just made one more play. You have to give them credit.”
The Rams were clinging to a 3-2 lead entering the seventh inning and Cleveland reliever Landry Moore had been able to keep the Pirates off the scoreboard. But Topsail (17-9) rallied for three runs, getting to Moore for three hits, a walk and there was one Rams error during the outburst.
Topsail coach Chris Blake then turned to senior ace Payton Rice in the bottom of the seventh. It was the only inning the Rams went three up and three down.
“Their pitchers were keeping us off-balance and both teams missed some scoring opportunities,” said Moore, a senior captain. “But in the seventh they were able to put the ball in play and make some things happen.”
Cleveland jumped ahead 2-0 in the first when centerfielder and leadoff hitter Ryan Flores walked and scored on a double by Moore, who then scored on a double by junior catcher Bobby Dixon, who is among the state leaders in doubles.
Moore also scored in the fifth to put his team ahead 3-2. He reached on a walk and scored on a bases loaded walk.
Ryan Flores, who closed out his career as a senior captain, had a perfect drag bunt single in his final at-bat as the Rams loaded the bases in the sixth, but didn’t score.
“We all stepped up and had a great season as a team,” Flores said. “After winning 14 games and finishing second in the conference last year, we wanted first place, and we got it.”
D.J. Witmer, a senior first baseman, had two singles and a bases loaded walk for the Rams.
Topsail, the 2014 3A champ, was 17-9 this year, but it was a deceptive record.
“We went through a stretch of injuries and also played a very tough schedule, including the National Invitational in Cary, at the USA Complex,” Topsail coach Blake said. “We knew we could play with good teams after that experience. And beating Cleveland shows we can beat anyone now.”
Cleveland left 11 runners on base in the first six innings, including the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings.
Both teams had eight hits.
“This team can appreciate what it has done.” Lee said. “We shot for the stars but landed on the moon. But 22-4 is not too shabby, nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Rams graduate a 10-player senior class: Brennan Linfield, Seth Gooding, Will Tetrault, Tanner Rhyne, Landon Brown, Dylan Lee, Caleb Howard, Moore, Flores and Witmer.