ECC champions eliminate Saints from 3-A baseball playoffs
By David Williams
Published in Sports on May 23, 2004 2:01 AM
By DAVID WILLIAMS
News-Argus Sports Editor
MOREHEAD CITY -- As the ball rose dramatically toward the fence in left-center field, the reality of what was about to happen set in on the Southern Wayne baseball team.
As the ball fell in the trees beyond the red outfield fence, the West Carteret faithful cheered Josh Wright, who deposited the ball into the trees for a two-run home run. The homer capped a four-run fifth inning that blew open a close game and pushed the Patriots into an 8-2 win over the Saints in the N.C. High School Athletic Association's Class 3-A baseball playoffs at the Patriots' home diamond.
The loss ended a remarkable run for coach Trae McKee's Saints (14-12) , who opened their Eastern Carolina Conference season at 0-5 and ended up in the second round of the playoffs.
"Good things happen to good people," McKee said. "There's not one player in that dugout that won't come to practice early and stay late after practice. They're a working group of players."
The victory moves ECC champion West Carteret (22-3) into a third-round matchup against West Brunswick, which beat Manteo 1-0 Friday night.
The key to the game was the clutch hit -- West Carteret's ability to get one and Southern Wayne's struggle to find one. The Saints left 10 runners on base - five at third -- and could not find the punch offensively to rattle Patriots starter Drew Poulk, who was named ECC player of the year earlier in the week.
West Carteret got that punch from Bruce Johnson, who belted a two-run home run in the third inning and doubled in the fifth. In all, Johnson drove in five runs on a 3-for-4 effort at the plate.
But he wasn't alone. Lonnie Chisenhall doubled to open the game, and Wright had the big blow to put the home team ahead to stay. The Patriots ended up with seven hits off three Saint pitchers.
Southern Wayne had nine hits in the game -- including four from Austin Hood, who was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate. But the Saints never got the important hit no matter how many times they set the table for a big inning.
"The difference in the game was hits with runners in scoring position," said McKee. "That's baseball."
McKee was quick to compliment the Patriots.
"They have a great ball team," he said, "They can kill the ball from one through nine."
Chisenhall's double provided the game's first run as Johnson picked up his first RBI on a one-out groundout. Southern Wayne tied it back up in the third as Hood singled to drive in Nathan Fail.
The game did not stay tied for long. Johnson belted a two-run home run to the deepest part of the park in the bottom of the third for a 3-1 lead. The Saints closed the gap with another single run in the fourth as David Combs drew a walk and scored courtesy of an error, a passed ball and a and RBI groundout from Ashton Langston.
Then came the notorious Patriots' fourth inning.
David Combs, who had to relieve starter Matthew Holloman in the third inning, walked Chisenhall to open the inning and gave up a one-out double to Johnson that scored Chisenhall from first. A wild pitch moved the runner up and Johnson came in on a sacrifice fly by Nick Martin for a 5-2 lead.
Then Wright took all the drama out of the game with his two-run shot.
"I don't think it took all the wind out of us," said McKee. "We battled back and got in a position to get close again. I thought David threw it well. He just made two mistakes and he kept us in it until the end."
McKee loses just two seniors form his team -- Chris Pearsall and Nathan Fail. The rest of the mostly sophomore- and junior-based team will be back - after what McKee said would be a lot of summer and fall work.
"We're young and we're getting better," McKee said. "We'll keep on getting better."
2004 N.C. High School
Class 3-A Baseball Playoffs
(at West Carteret HS)
Southern Wayne 001 100 0 -- 2 9 3
West Carteret 102 041 x -- 8 7 2
Leading hitters -- Southern Wayne -- Austin Hood 4-4, RBI; Ashton Langston 1-3, RBI. West Carteret -- Bruce Johnson 3-4, 2B, HR, 5 RBI; Josh Wright 2-3, HR, 2 RBI; Nick Martin RBI; Lonnie Chisenhall 1-2, 2B.
IP H R ER BB SO
Holloman 2 2 1 1 1 2
Combs (L) 3 4 6 4 1 1
Langston 1 1 1 0 0 1
Poulk (W) 5 3 6 0 2 7
Chisenhall 2 3 0 0 1 2
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