Continuing its string of solid performances since mid-April, East Chapel Hill won a one-game playoff last week against Durham Riverside to clinch second place in the Piedmont Athletics Conference baseball standings.
East’s 6-4 win, played ironically enough at Northern Durham, gave East Chapel Hill (15-6) a better shot at getting at least one home game in the upcoming N.C. High School Athletics Association playoffs. The NCHSAA is expected to announce the 64-team seedings, divided into 32-team East and West regions, late Sunday.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game either team ever played, I can tell you,” East Chapel Hill coach Phil Woodell said, citing four Wildcat errors and three by the Pirates. “But we were able to put together enough hits to win, and that feels pretty good.”
The site of Thursday’s win was “ironic” because Northern has become the Wildcats’ bête noire this season. Following a desultory 3-3 start to the year, East Chapel Hill won nine of 11 games after the midseason Hilltop Invitational. East Chapel Hill’s only two losses after April 4 were to the Knights: 2-1 in eight innings and 9-1 April 24 at Northern home field.
Returning to the Knights’ home field for a one-game playoff, after Riverside and East finished the season tied at 7-3 in PAC-6 games, didn’t faze Woodell.
“Riverside didn’t want come here, and I certainly didn’t want to play at Riverside,” Woodell said.
Riverside (14-9) had an 8-3 record at home this season, while East Chapel Hill was 7-2 at home. After East’s 6-4 win Thursday, the Wildcats were 2-0 in neutral field games and Riverside was 0-3.
The only thing that worried Woodell was that Thursday’s game was East’s third straight in three days. The Wildcats won 3-0 Tuesday at Durham Jordan and then defeated Durham Hillside 10-4 to celebrate “Senior Day” at East on Wednesday.
“I’m running on fumes right now,” Woodell said Friday morning at East Chapel Hill. “I think the kids are, too.”
The good news Thursday for East was that Riverside had played just as crowded a schedule and entered Thursday’s game with less momentum. The Pirates lost 16-5 at Northern on Tuesday and then traveled to Roxboro for an 11-2 win Wednesday to force the playoff game for second place.
East Chapel Hill senior Sean Moore (3-1) shrugged off a slow start to shut out Riverside over Thursday’s last four innings. Moore gave up two earned runs in the first three innings but then finished strong, Woodell said, and ended up scattering six hits over a full seven innings worked, striking out five Pirates and walking just one.
“Sean’s pitching was good, especially in the latter half of the game,” Woodell said. “His stuff was sharper, and the kids played better defense behind him later in the game.”
After going 3-for-5 with three RBI against Hillside, Moore helped himself at the plate Thursday by batting 2-for-4 with an RBI.
D.J. Recny paced the Wildcats’ hitting Thursday by going 3-for-3, including a double, with two RBIs.
Bennett Byerley went 3-for-7 over East’s last two games, producing five runs batted in. Brad Rice and Chris Clarke both went 1-2 against Riverside.
Woodell hoped Thursday’s game would provide East Chapel Hill with a jump start for the NCHSAA playoffs.
“It helps to get a win” in an extra game,” he said. “We’re 21 games into the year. At this point, you just want to stay sharp and be ready to play every time you get onto the field, because your next game could be your last game.”
Extra innings for Big 8
Playing last-place Southern Durham for the second time in three days, Northwood won 13-2 Wednesday at the Spartans’ home field to clinch third place in the Big 8 Conference.
Northwood (14-7, 9-5) defeated Southern 14-1 Monday on Senior night in Pittsboro and downed Northern Vance (11-9, 5-9) before pounding out 13 hits to win at Southern.
Meanwhile, Chapel Hill (15-8, 8-6) dropped two games to league-leader Cardinal Gibbons last week to drop back into fourth place. The Tigers were shut out 12-0 at home Monday and then fell 7-2 at Cardinal Gibbons on Wednesday.
Update: Gibbons (21-2, 13-1) and Orange (20-3, 13-1) met Friday evening in Hillsborough for a one-game playoff to decide the Big 8 Conference’s No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCHSAA 3A state tournament. Gibbons won 7-5 to clinch the conferences top seed.
Orange and Gibbons split their regular-season meetings 1-1, with the Panthers winning 6-2 at Gibbons and the Crusaders winning 3-1 at Orange.
Pairings for the NCHSAA tournament are expected to be released Sunday evening. See www.nchsaa.org for more information.