Topsail went back to its old standby on offense — small ball — to earn the right to play as big a time of ball as there is in North Carolina high school baseball Saturday.
Both Topsail runs scored with a lead off hit, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly in a 2-1 victory over Corinth Holders in the deciding Game 3 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s Eastern Regional Championship Series.
Topsail (21-10) will meet either Ledford or Mavin Ridge in the state championship series next weekend in either Burlington or Raleigh. Sites for the state baseball and softball series will be announced by the NCHSAA early this coming week.
While Topsail is back in the state finals for the second time in three seasons, the loss ended a wild, thrilling playoff run by Corinth Holders, which played four of its six playoff games on the road, logging more than 1,100 miles on the road in the past three weeks, traveling from Greensboro to Shallotte.
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Corinth Holders finishes its season with a 19-9 record, becoming the first team in the current school’s six-year history to advance to a regional championship series. (The old Corinth Holders High, which closed during consolidation, made the eastern regional baseball finals in 1967.)
“I told them to remember what they’ve accomplished,” said Corinth Holders coach Adam Weaver. “To remember that we were one swing of the bat, one out away from playing for the state championship. What you take away from it is that they’re a team that broke the school record for wins in a season, became the first team at our school to play in an eastern regional championship.
“And we gave Topsail everything they wanted.”
Topsail lead off batter Josh Madole doubled in the bottom of the first, took third base on Bryce Cota’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Sam Hall for a quick 1-0 lead.
That score held until Topsail used the same exact formula in in the third inning: Madole double, Cota bunt and Hall fly out to push the lead to 2-0.
“That was the way we won games in the regular season,” Topsail coach Steve Blake said of Saturday’s Topsail offense. “We’ve scored some runs in the playoffs in earlier rounds, but we’re pretty seasoned playing small ball.”
Corinth Holders had runners on base in five of the first six innings, but its big chance came in the top of the sixth. Cleanup batter Tate Proctor came to the plate with runners at second (Mason Cooper) and third (Eli Dalton) and two outs. Proctor lined a hard ground ball toward Madole at first base, but the ball took a huge hop after it hit the lip of the infield grass, darting over Madole’s head and into right field.
Dalton scored easily and Cooper came home hard, but a perfect series of throws put the ball in Topsail catcher Colby Emmertz’s hands just in time to put the tag on and hold a 2-1 lead for Topsail.
“Two outs, man on second base, a base hit to the outfield, absolutely, we’re always going to try to score in that situation,” Weaver said. “So much has to go right for the defense. He’s got to field that ball cleanly, get it out of his glove clean, make a good throw. They did it all perfectly. It was just great execution on their part.”
It was the only time the Pirates were able to do damage against Topsail ace right-hander Payton Rice. Rice got the complete-game victory, his second win in the series, moving to 11-1 on the season.
“That’s why we started looking at how we were using him on Tuesday, thinking ahead to, if we had a third game,” Blake said of Rice. “It paid off for us today.”
Rice held Corinth Holders to three hits, while Coritnh Holders pitchers Conner Bass and Josh Jarman combined to limit Topsail to five hits. It was another well-pitched, defensively tight game, following Corinth Holders’ 2-1 win on Friday night. Dalton had two of Corinth Holders’ hits.
Corinth Holders will lose five players to graduation: Tyler Parker, Will Jones, Kahlil Hodge, Hunter Sullivan and Tyler Brown, all contributors of note to the solid playoff run that put a regional runner-up award in the school’s trophy case.