The single-elimination format of the N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball playoffs can be cruel.
Just ask 4A East No. 1 seed Cardinal Gibbons.
Trailing No. 17 J.H. Rose by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Crusaders put runners on second and third with one out.
First baseman Cam McNabb flew out to shallow left field for out No. 2 to bring up left fielder Stephen Shank.
Shank wasted no time, hitting the first offering he got from Rampants’ 6-foot-3 left-hander Matt Burne back up the middle. The ball found its way between the 6-foot-3 hurler’s legs, where a sprinting shortstop Greg Hardison extended for it.
Fielding the ball cleanly, he rifled it to Tyshawn Barratt at first. Ball met glove and all eyes turned to the field umpire, who unflinchingly called Shank out to end the N&O’s top-ranked team’s season 5-4.
“What a terrific play to end a terrific game,” J.H. Rose head coach Ronald Vincent said. “This was a great win for us. Cardinal Gibbons is a tremendous team. They had good hacks at us all day. Any baseball person, they’d love this game.”
The Rampants improved to 17-7 and will take on No. 24 Fuquay-Varina in the third round.
“They had guys on second and third, but somehow, I knew it was coming to me,” Hardison said. “He hit it up the middle and instincts took over.”
Cardinal Gibbons exits at 22-3. The loss was a tough pill for his squad to swallow, Gibbons head coach Jim Liebler said.
“We had a great season, but four rounds of single-elimination is extremely tough,” he said. “Every game you’re facing a great team. And you can be the No. 1 team, lose, and you’re not playing anymore.”
Of the final play, Liebler shook his head.
“Hats off to that kid, he made the play to make the umpire have to make that call,” he said.
Cardinal Gibbons went up 1-0 in the second, only to have Rose rally for a 3-1 lead in the top of the third.
Undaunted, the Crusaders tied it in the bottom of the inning, but once again, the Rampants took the lead in the top of the next inning at 4-3.
Rose pushed it to 5-3 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Coleman Sawyer. A run that proved to be the winner as CG answered in the bottom of the frame with an RBI grounder.
Rampants’ sophomore right fielder Anthony Saieed arm also played a big role.
Saieed helped threw out a runner at second and may have kept a runner on third from trying to score on a fourth-inning blooper in the corner. He also scored two runs with a double.
“And it’s just his third varsity game,” Vincent said of his junior varsity call-up.
Said Saieed: “I’m just honored to be out here. ... Really, I was surprised to be playing.”