05/22/05 — The gift that keeps giving: Princeton advances into Round 3

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The gift that keeps giving: Princeton advances into Round 3

Published in Sports on May 22, 2005 2:17 AM

PRINCETON -- His birthday present arrived a day early, but that was just fine for Princeton High pitcher Dustin Myers.

The Bulldogs' 4-3 win over visiting Topsail was not only exactly what he wanted, but also propelled his team into Round 3 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A baseball playoffs.

While the thrill of victory was exhilarating, there was certainly no joy with the weather. It was balmy at the Fred Bartholomew Sports Complex to start the game. That lasted exactly one inning.

The temperature dropped 10-20 degrees. A fierce wind blew directly at the players, fans and umpires from the outfield. What started as a fine mist, ended as a steady downpour for the rest of the contest.

Despite the inclement conditions, the game was played as billed.

Topsail, entering the game at 23-2, was the No. 1 seed from the Coastal Plains Conference. Princeton is the defending Eastern Regional champion.

Given the elements, who would have thought the game's outcome would hinge on pitching, defense, and execution? All Myers did was retire the first five men he faced. Two of them, third baseman Jameson Vaughan and designated hitter Shane Coston were hitting at a .475 clip.

His opponent across the diamond, Kyle Lewis, was equally stingy. The recent N.C.-Wilmington signee struck out the side to start the game. Lewis entered the game with a 7-1 record, a 0.77 E.R.A. and 109 strikeouts.

Princeton drew first blood in the bottom of the second inning. Left fielder Josh Thompson reached safely on a fielder's choice. Brooks Moore followed with a single. With two outs, consecutive walks to Bren Hall and Patrick Gatewood forced Thompson home.

Defensively, in 'Star Wars' terms, the Force was with the Bulldogs. Catcher Daniel Gerrell's alert backup of first cut down Quinn Blake trying to take an extra base. An inning later, another potential Topsail threat was quashed before it could occur.

Shortstop Brandon Pate barehanded Vaughan's liner that had ricocheted off Myers' right foot and caught him at first by less than a step. Pate finished the night with four assists and one put-out.

Topsail finally got to Myers in the fifth. Two doubles, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch brought in three runs for the Pirates. Further damage was averted when Myers' throw to Gatewood caught Bob White off base,

Princeton's offense was being throttled by leaving 12 men on base during the night. They got runners on in the third and fourth, but left them stranded. They finally broke through in the fifth.

With two outs, Pate singled. Thompson reached safely on a fielder's choice, scoring Pate on an infield error. Consecutive walks this time to Moore and designated hitter, Robert Gurley, loaded the bases.

In one of those 'Kodak moments,' with the rain now blowing seemingly horizontal, Hall calmly waited for his pitch, and got it, sending a ball right up the middle, scoring Thompson to tie, and Moore for the game winner.

"Good things happen to good people," said Princeton head coach Richard Proctor.

The loss was "a hard pill to swallow" for Pirate coach Bill White, a Southern Wayne graduate, whose sister Phyllis Moore, writes for the News-Argus. "When playing a team the caliber of Princeton, you have to play a near-perfect game. We did a lot of things to hurt ourselves tonight."

"White "tipped his hat" to Myers. "He threw strikes, was ahead in the counts, and walked only one. With his pitching and the team's overall defensive play, tonight, Princeton was the better team."

Myers minimized the shot to his ankle. "At first, I was a bit scared, but I just walked it off," he said."This was a big, big win for us," he added. "We were supposedly the underdog."

"Dustin is the true Bulldog," said Proctor. "He always comes up big for us.

"We were very fortunate tonight," he continued. "Topsail is one of the best teams in the area. Given the number of players we left on base, we were very, very fortunate to win."

Princeton will be out to make it three in a row Tuesday night against Farmville Central, a winner yesterday over Midway.