The conference will hold tournaments in both sports this week to crown tournament champs, but the three top seeds for the N.C. High School Athletic Association are all set with the Rams in baseball and the Trojans in softball.
A win by a team seeded lower than third in the tournament would automatically bump that squad up to the No. 2 state playoff seed and, accordingly, bump the other teams down.
The state playoffs will begin May 11.
Baseball: Flores’ no-no leaves no doubt for Rams
Cleveland left no doubt about its right to the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship Saturday night, downing rival Corinth Holders 3-1 behind a no-hitter from senior left-hander Ryan Flores.
The Rams finished the conference season at 9-1, two games ahead of the rest of the league.
Flores held the Pirate bats in check with one walk allowed and six strikeouts. Corinth Holders’ only run came in the second inning when Khalil Hodge reached on dropped third strike and later scored on Cole Sakowski’s ground ball out.
The Rams went up 1-0 in the first on Tyler Keenan’s sacrifice fly, then pushed ahead 2-1 in the third when Dillon Lee singled and came home on a Keenan sacrifice fly.
Will Tetrault singled home Cleveland’s last run in the bottom of the sixth.
Only one Pirate baserunner reached over the final four innings of play against Flores.
The win completes a remarkable regular season for a 10-member Rams’ senior class who has seen the program jump from two sub-.500 seasons (both 11-12) to a 14-10 mark last year to a school record 21 wins in 2016.
“We have just kept the formula simple: throw strikes, play solid defense, and hit and that has worked well for us with the exception of just a couple of innings this year,” said Cleveland coach Jamie Lee. “I have 10 seniors who have worked really hard to get better both individually and as a team. They are driven to be fundamentally sound on defense and have learned to make the most of their at bats. They have all contributed to the success of the team.”
Flores, a Lander University recruit, was 5-1 against Two Rivers 3A Conference competition this season and 6-2 overall with a 1.35 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 51.1 innings of work.
Keenan is carrying a .475 batting average into the playoffs with 28 RBI and 29 hits in the Rams’ 24 games.
“Although we have accomplished a lot, we are still not satisfied, and that drive to do more is Senior led,” Lee said. “They expect to win and refuse to accept losing. Hopefully, we can keep playing a little longer in the postseason.”
The loss dropped Corinth Holders into a tie with Triton for third place in the conference. Those two teams split their regular-season series. Triton’s 4-3 come-from-behind win on Saturday night over South Johnston kept the Trojans from having a chance to share the title with Cleveland. South (7-3 in the league) would have needed to beat Triton and a Corinth Holders win over Cleveland to tie the Rams for the title.
Softball: Trojans finish with seven straight wins
In late March, after back-to-back one-run losses to rivals Cleveland and Corinth Holders, South Johnston appeared to be a team moving away from the realm of conference champion. But after seven consecutive Two Rivers 3A Conference victories to close out the season, the Trojans will hoist at least one conference championship banner for a fourth consecutive season.
South Johnston defeated Triton 5-4 on Saturday evening, jumping out to a three-run lead after two, then having to make a one-run lead hold up over the final four innings of play.
Freshmen bats helped spark South’s offense on Saturday. Carmen Keene went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and fellow frosh Kandis Adams was 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Senior McKinley Johnson scored twice and junior Reagan Byrd crossed the plate twice as well in the victory.
Mary Ann Brown got the win with five innings of work, while Keene helped pin down the win with four innings of shutout ball to get the save.
South’s defense finished the night with just one error on 19 outs that didn’t come on strikeouts.
Cleveland finished in a tie for second (at 7-3 with Triton) after a wild 8-7 loss to Corinth Holders on Saturday afternoon. The Pirates finished fourth in the standings at 6-4, but helped their bid for an at large state playoff bid with the victory.
Victoria Hendricks, Rebecca Parker, Shanan Hester, Manna Mizell, Aiyana Campbell and Ashlyn Biethman all had two hits each for Corinth Holders.