South Granville coach Curt Watkins was quick to point out Saturday that his team lost by double-digit runs in Game 2 of last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A baseball championships before bouncing back to defeat Randleman in the deciding game to win the state title.
That same resolve will be needed this weekend for the Vikings after an 8-0 loss to East Rutherford on Saturday in Game 1 of this year’s 2A best-of-three finals at Burlington Athletic Stadium. A combination of defensive miscues and an impressive pitching performance from the Cavaliers’ Ethan Stewart made for a long start to the day.
Stewart tossed a five-hitter with 11 strikeouts. Meanwhile, South Granville (23-4) committed four errors, including two in a six-run fourth inning that removed much of the doubt of the game’s outcome. Game 2 was to be played later Saturday and, if needed, Game 3 on Sunday.
“I knew what we were going to see the first game, I knew Ethan was going to throw and that we were going to have to battle that,” Watkins said. “That being said, you can’t make four errors and help them out that much more.”
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East Rutherford (23-7) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Holden Greene reached on an error to lead off the game and Kendall McGovern followed with an RBI triple down the third-base line off South Granville ace Justin Bullock to plate Greene.
The Cavaliers then blew it open in the fourth inning.
Stewart reached second base on a throwing error to begin the fourth. After he was lifted for courtesy runner Cameron Simmons, Adam Barnette looped an RBI single to score Simmons for a 2-0 lead.
Bullock was relieved by Justin Brown after striking out Nick Strickland. Brown proceeded to walk Greene and McGowan to load the bases before Reece Oliver ripped a two-run double to deep left that made it 4-0. Daiquon Davenport followed with a deep shot to center that was mishandled for a three-base error, scoring two more runs to increase the lead to 6-0.
Bullock, who in the third inning took a line drive off his right arm, gave up three runs – one earned – in 3 1/3 innings to suffer only his second loss of the season in 12 decisions.
“He’s fine,” Watkins said of Bullock. “I had Justin on a pitch count anyways depending on how the game went, he threw 52 pitches so if I need him in (Game 3) he’s available for us.”
Stewart was impressive from the start. He allowed no more than one base-runner in any of his seven innings and struck out the side in the final inning to end it.
“Hopefully the bats will wake up for us,” said Watkins, whose team lost 11-1 to Randleman before rebounding with an 8-4 win to take last year’s 2A title. “We took a lump last year in the second game, so they know what it’s like to get beat. Hopefully it will wake us up and we’ll be ready to go next game.”