05/15/09 — Gryphons oust Saints

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Gryphons oust Saints

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 15, 2009 1:46 PM

ROCKY MOUNT -- No. 2-ranked Rocky Mount successfully began defense of its 2008 state 3-A championship Thursday evening.

The outcome, however, remained in doubt until the late innings.

Upstart Southern Wayne kept the Gryphons from running away in their opening-round, N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff contest. Michael Douglas threw five-plus superb innings before a defensive miscue allowed Rocky Mount to scratch in the scoring column.

Ben Fish's one-out single and Chris Pittman's sixth-inning, pinch-hit home run powered the Gryphons to a 4-1 victory. Rocky Mount secured its third consecutive 20-win season and opposes either White Oak or South Central in a second-round game Tuesday.

The Saints concluded the year 12-15 overall.

"Michael Douglas gutted it out, has been tender in his (throwing) shoulder and hasn't thrown for us lately," said ninth-year Southern Wayne head coach Trae McKee. "That's all he talked about today is how bad he wanted the ball and I didn't tell anyone about who was going to start until game time.

"He got some good hitters out on some good pitches."

Douglas permitted four runs (one earned) on nine hits and yielded just two walks. The right-hander allowed the lead-off batter to reach in the first and second innings, and wiggled out of trouble with an inning-ending double play in the fourth.

"He was able to throw his slider at any time in the count and they're not going to miss too many fastballs," said McKee of Douglas' effort. "He changed a lot of at-bats and I thought he did a good job."

Rocky Mount (20-2 overall) broke the scoreless tie during its fifth at-bat.

Carter Varnell reached on infield error and the Gryphons loaded the bases with back-to-back infield bunts. Carter scored on Collins Cuthrell's RBI sacrifice fly at the warning track in center field. Brian Goodwin, who is projected as the 23rd pick overall in the Major League draft, trotted home on Fish's hit up the middle.

After Pittman's third pinch-hit homer of the season, Varnell cranked out a single and eventually scored on a passed ball.

"Rocky Mount got that one big hit when they needed it," said McKee.

Southern Wayne could never produce the big run-scoring hit and left five runners stranded in the first three innings. Gryphon southpaw Hobbs Johnson, who has committed to North Carolina, recorded consecutive strikeouts to leave the bases loaded in the third inning.

A junior, Johnson scattered six hits and tied a career high for strikeouts (14) in the 1-hour, 44-minute contest. He lost his shutout bid when Jordan Williams swatted a sixth-inning double into the power alley to score Zach Grantham.

"Johnson is a legitimate next-level guy with three pitches that are very effective," said McKee. "On top of that, you have to respect his fastball because it's got a lot of life on it. They really dodged a couple of big bullets (early).

"But you've got to have some timely hitting."