After falling behind early, timely hitting an inspired relief pitching helped No. 15 Chapel Hill come from behind and take down No. 18 Eastern Guilford, 4-3, in the first round of the N.C. High School 3A baseball state tournament Wednesday night.
Junior Jackson Pettee got the start on the mound for the Tigers (21-6), and quickly found himself in trouble against a hard-hitting Wildcat (15-9) lineup.
After giving up a single and a walk with one out in the top of the first inning, Pettee left a fastball high and over the plater to Eastern Guilford junior Caleb Kennedy, who promptly drove the ball over the wall in left-center for a three-run home run.
Chapel Hill battled back in the bottom of the inning, as a trio of two out hits — the third a two-run double by Garrett Liebe — cut the deficit to 3-2.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“The three-run home run was a punch to the face, and it knocked us back, but we responded,” said Chapel Hill Coach Lee Land. “I think the two in the first were really big to kind of get the playoff jitters out (and give us) a little momentum.”
Pettee retired the first two Wildcats in the bottom of the second, but after giving up two-straight walks he was pulled in favor of senior Justin Anthony.
The first batter Anthony faced hit a sharply-hit ball right back at him. After knocking the ball down with his glove hand, he fired to first to end the inning and the scoring threat.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore second baseman Taylor Hansen stepped up to the plate with a chance to give the Tigers the lead. On a 1-0 pitch, he delivered, hitting a single to left, scoring both runners and giving Chapel Hill a 4-3 advantage.
“(I was) just not trying to do too much,” Hansen said. “Just do what I normally do and hit the ball hard.”
From there it was on Anthony to close out the game, and he did just that. The senior retired the final 10 batters he faced on the night, and got the last one to strike out looking for the game’s final out.
“I just held true to what I knew I needed to do,” Anthony said. “I went in and hit my spots the best I could, defense was behind me to back me up and I’m just thankful they’re there.”
With the win, the Tigers — who have now won eight of their last nine games — will travel to West Brunswick, the No. 2 seed in the East. The two will face off at 7 p.m. on Saturday.