Heritage’s baseball team made very few mistakes against top-seeded J.H. Rose at Guy Smith Stadium on Tuesday. But the Rampants’ Greg Hardison made them pay for those miscues.
He drove in three runs, hit his first home run of the season and keyed a pair of double plays late in the game in the Rampants’ 3-2 win over the Huskies in an N.C. High School Athletic Association third-round 4A matchup.
“One guy really beat us,” Heritage coach Thomas Ferrera said.
J.H. Rose (23-3) will host Holly Springs, a 2-0 winner over Cardinal Gibbons, on Friday.
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Heritage starter Trent Harris was stellar, holding down the Rampants’ high-powered offense to four hits over six innings.
“I think he did a great job,” Ferrera said. “I think the only thing we did wrong was walk the 9- and 8-hole hitter, and both of those guys scored.”
Rose’s Anthony Saieed drew a one-out walk in the third inning, and scored on a double to the left-field gap by Hardison.
Michael Crumpler walked with one out in the sixth for the Rampants. Two batters later, Hardison sliced a Harris offering over the left-field gap for his first home run of the season.
“I wanted to walk the leadoff batter with first base open – I saw he was batting .520 or something like that – and my coach talked me out of that,” Ferrera said. “Two pitches later, it’s over the fence and it’s a 3-0 ballgame.”
Rose’s pitchers also got the job done. Hunter Christopher yielded just three hits in the first five innings before the Huskies got to him in the sixth.
Heritage loaded the bases with no one out as Branden Kunz led off with a single, Thayer Thomas singled and Vito Patierno reached on an infield.
Drake Thomas’ fielder’s choice drove in Kunz, and Thayer Thomas also crossed the plate as a throw to Rose first baseman Tyshawn Barrett caused him and Drake Thomas to collide to trim the deficit to 3-2.
Christopher was pulled in favor of Crumpler, who was warming up by long tossing to a teammate from left field.
Harris hit Crumpler’s first pitch directly to Hardison, who threw to Barrett to double off Drake Thomas to end the threat.
“That’s just baseball,” Ferrera said of the double play. “It was hard-hit ball. That’s all you can ask for. Five inches higher – maybe 10 inches higher – it’s a base hit. It just happened to go right at the guy, double him up. That’s a momentum changer right there.”
Rose had a double play in the fifth inning. Max Ruskie halted a string of seven consecutive batters retired with a single in the fifth inning, but Cam O’Brien’s dribbler back to Christopher started the play to erase both baserunners.
Christopher got the win, striking out seven and walking two in 5 1/3 innings. Crumpler came back in the seventh, getting a deep flyout from Ruskie and striking out the last two batters to earn the save and advance the Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference champions to the fourth round.
“What a great baseball game,” Rose coach Ronald Vincent said. “You can’t say enough about Hunter Christopher, and Crump comes in and really does the job.”
Hardison finished 2-for-3, accounting for all of Rose’s runs.
“Especially in close games like that, it’s our job to step up,” Hardison said. “We’ve got to show our leadership. Our seniors show it by our actions, and it’s really cool to see.”
Kunz was 2-for-3 for Heritage. The Huskies, from the Cap-8 Conference, finish the season 20-6.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Ferrera said. “Against the No. 1 (seed), you fought inning for inning. They’re No. 1. You held your own.”