It was a logical question and Corinth Holders baseball coach Adam Weaver had the perfect answer for it at the ideal time Friday night.
Asked after the game if his team was a year ahead of schedule – citing its lack of seniors in the starting lineup – after advancing to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state semifinals with an eight-inning, 9-4 win over No. 2 seed West Brunswick, Weaver summarized the last two weeks perfectly in one sentence.
“No,” he said. “These guys are right where I thought they would be.”
Corinth Holders played right with the favored Trojans (24-4) for five innings and went ahead in the sixth, only to see that lead slip away in the bottom half of the inning. Then, down to the last out, Alec Seaton, the ninth batter in the Pirate order, doubled to force extra innings.
The extra inning was when the Pirates were at their best, reeling off five runs in the top of the eighth to advance to their first Eastern Regional Championship series.
Corinth Holders (19-7 and seeded 19th) will meet No. 17 seed Topsail (19-9, and a 7-0 winner over Orange Friday night) in the best of three series this coming week. Topsail will host the first and third games; Corinth Holders hosts Game 2.
After Seaton’s blast to center field scored Will Jones in the top of the seventh, Mason Cooper started the Corinth Holders’ eighth with a double to center. The Trojans couldn’t get an out on Tyler Barritt’s sacrifice bunt attempt and an obstruction call on the play sent Cooper home for a 5-4 lead.
Junior standout Tate Proctor blasted a two-run home run shortly thereafter for a 7-4 lead. Proctor said Weaver had given him a bunt sign earlier in the at bat, then did it once again before wiping it off on the home run pitch.
“It was just right there, just what I was looking for,” Proctor said of the pitch and his swing.
One of those Corinth Holders seniors – outfielder Kahlil Hodge – got the offense going again after the home run, singling to put two runners on with one out. Carson Sakowski drew a walk to load the bases before the second Trojan infield error of the inning, an overthrown ball to first base, allowed two more runs to score for the 9-4 lead.
Hodge went 3-for-3 on the night, exploding out of an offensive slump. He gave Corinth Holders its first lead with a two-run home run – a rocket shot that barely got 25 feet off the ground while going over the right-center field wall – in the top of the second inning.
“We put ourselves in a position to win all night and it started with Kahlil’s first at bat,” Weaver said. “Kahlil’s been struggling for a while, but that at bat, it was like you could see that weight just lifted off of his shoulders.
“We don’t get to where we are tonight without him stepping up first.”
Also stepping up in the middle innings was pitcher Tyler Brown. Brown worked five innings of relief, allowing only the two West Brunswick runs in the sixth. Brown got the win, his third in the Pirates’ four playoff games.
“He’s just been really, really on and consistent with all of his pitches,” fellow Pirate pitcher Kody Cyr said of Brown. “He’s been able to do it again and again.”
Cyr also played his own special role in the win. After starting on the mound and giving way to Brown in the third, he returned to the mound in the bottom of the eighth to get the final three outs. Brown had hit his innings-pitched limit, registering 12 innings in three days.
“I had no idea I’d be going in until just before that inning,” Cyr said. “It hadn’t even crossed my mind. ... But once I get on the mound, I’m able to just get right back into it.”
He moved the Pirates into the state semifinals with a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball out. Corinth Holders’ infield specialized in getting outs Friday night, registering 13 outs without making a single error.
“We’ve just done whatever we needed to do at the right time,” Hodge said of the team’s run. “We’re just staying together, competing the whole game.”
West Brunswick’s offense thrived on a simple approach when it succeeded: getting the lead-off man on. Every time the Trojans did – including twice with speedy No. 1 batter Tyler Stanley, they scored in the inning. Every other inning when the Pirates got out No. 1 on the lead off-batter, West couldn’t scratch anything out on the scoreboard.
“You’ve got to get that lead-off batter out,” Weaver said. “You’re going to struggle if you don’t. And (West Brunswick) is just extremely, extremely good at the small ball game once they get that first guy on base.”
Even though they’ll shift to a different format in the next round with one loss not ending a playoff run, the Pirates don’t plan to change their approach.
“You’re still doing the same thing you’ve done the last two weeks: taking it one game at a time,” Weaver said. “You can’t think about a second game or a third game. We’re going to keep battling and fighting to play another day every time we take the field.”