On Friday night, the theme was supposed to be Chapel Hill head coach Lee Land facing his alma mater Riverside, the school where he was state player of the year in 2003.
By night’s end, it belonged to Connor Stough and a victory he waited three years to capture.
Stough scored the game-winning run off a passed ball in the seventh inning as Chapel Hill defeated Riverside 5-4 in the second game of the Hilltop Invitational Baseball Tournament at Tiger Stadium. CHHS. The Tigers (8-3) captured their initial game of the event, beating Burlington Williams 11-6 but then got their first loss in eight home games by falling 11-4 Saturday to Tallmadge (Ohio).
With Friday’s game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Andrew Miller tripled to right field with one out. Riverside intentionally walked Stough and Matt Dayton. Pinch-hitter Roy Huang grounded to third, leading to courtesy runner Justin Anthony (running for Miller) being forced out at the plate.
With two down, centerfielder Jackson Cabell swung and missed at a 2-0 slider from reliever Joe Wood that wound up in the dirt and eluded Riverside catcher Kimball Toone. Stough, who had advanced to third on the Huang groundout, slid into home to spark a celebration.
“We go over dirt ball reads once or twice a week,” said Land, who played at Wake Forest after graduating from Riverside. “I just throw balls into the dirt and our guys have to anticipate that. It’s good to see it work in a situation like that and give us a win.”
For Stough, a victory over perennial PAC-6 power Riverside couldn’t come soon enough. Stough spend his three varsity seasons at East Chapel Hill, where Stough lost all six career matchups against the Pirates.
“We lost to them over there every time,” said Stough, “We really wanted to get this win. We really wanted to get that run in and the second I saw that ball hit the dirt, I knew I had to go.”
The Hilltop was like a lost weekend for Riverside (6-5). The Pirates fell to defending 4A state champion and No. 1-ranked West Forsyth 13-1 on Thursday, lost Friday at Chapel Hill and then gave up nine runs in the first inning of a 14-3 loss to defending 3A state champion Topsail. Riverside gave up 36 hits in the three losses.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who will pitch well in one game and then struggle in the next one,” Riverside coach Doug Simmons said. “We need more than just two guys to pitch. We’re piecing things together. We need to figure out our rotation as we get back into conference games.”
Simmons noted Riverside had three games this week, starting with winless Hillside on Tuesday. The Pirates head Wednesday to Siler City for a non-conference game at 6 p.m. with Jordan-Matthews and are back home Thursday for a 7 p.m. game with Jordan (3-9, 2-0), which was the first team to get two PAC-6 wins this season.
“We’ll know a lot more about ourselves by the end of the week,” Simmons said.
Rhew and Ben Huffman went 2-for 4 for the Pirates. Huffman started the scoring with a double in the first inning, which led to an RBI single from Wood two batters later.
Even though Land was an assistant coach at Riverside two years ago and he remains friendly with Riverside coach Doug Simmons, there was aura of sentimentality on Friday.
“I don’t care who we’re playing, we gotta win each night,” said Land. “No win is more special than the other. It’s a big win for our program to come out on top against a program like that. It’s just another day on the diamond for me.”
HILLTOP INVITATONAL TOURNAMENT
Thursday, April 2
Carrboro 4, Jordan 3
Chapel Hill 11, Burlington Williams 6
East Chapel Hill 5, Tallmadge (Ohio) 4
Northern Durham 7, South Granville 0
Topsail 3, Orange 1
Wake County Homeschool 8, Cedar Ridge 2
West Forsyth 13, Riverside 1
Friday, April 3
South Granville 10, East Chapel Hill 1
Cedar Ridge 5, Northern Durham 2
Williams 8, Carrboro 2
Topsail 3, West Forsyth 0
Orange 11, Tallmadge 4
Chapel Hill 5, Riverside 4
Wake County Homeschool 9, Jordan 1
Saturday, April 4
South Granville 11, Jordan 6
Tallmadge 11, Chapel Hill 4
Topsail 14, Riverside 3
East Chapel Hill 17, Wake Co. Homeschool 14 (10 innings)
Orange 12, West Forsyth 9
Cedar Ridge 10, Williams 2
Northern Durham 25, Carrboro 9