By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 10, 2011 1:47 PM
WILSON -- Scott Pender doesn't like to gamble.
He's glad Cape Fear Christian did.
Down by a run and taking a chance, CFC's Blake Wall scrambled toward the plate as the relay throw on a sacrifice fly from right field bounced past Wayne Christian catcher Ryan Cooke and rolled to the backstop.
Cooke slid at the fence, scooped up the ball and tossed it back to teammate Bryce Norman, who braced for contact at the plate. Norman tagged Cooke on the cleats, took a hard shot to the chest and held onto the ball.
Norman showed the umpire the ball to complete the game-ending double play, and doubled over in pain as his teammates rushed to his side.
"I knew I was going to catch it ... a last-second decision," said Norman. "It hurt, but it was majorly worth it."
The dramatic ending sealed Wayne Christian's 9-8 victory in the Carolina Christian 1-A Conference tournament final Monday afternoon at Community Christian. The Eagles (10-8 overall) earned the automatic qualifying bid to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A state tournament for the seventh consecutive year.
"I think they played awesome," said first-year WCS coach Scott Pender. "I've talked to them all season about playing average and above average, and I think they went beyond the above average mark."
Norman, a soft-throwing left-hander with a slick-moving breaking ball, worked six innings on the rubber in relief of starter Tyler Mooring. He permitted six runs (four earned) on 11 hits, walked two and struck out two in the 2-hour, 14-minute affair.
Top-seeded Cape Fear Christian (13-3) defeated Wayne Christian three times during regular-season play, including two mercy-rule wins. But it succumbed to six costly errors that led to five unearned runs this time.
Three CFCA pitchers combined to yield just six hits.
"The thing Coach has been pushing on us all year is the team with less errors is going to win the ballgame," said Wayne Christian's Chase Darden, who was named the tournament MVP. "That's actually what happened. Everybody hit the ball good today. I'm really proud of everybody."
Darden's third-inning, three-RBI triple gave the third-seeded Eagles the lead for good, 3-2. Chandler Harrell added an RBI single and two CFCA defensive miscues put Wayne Christian ahead, 6-2, after 2 1/2 innings.
CFCA climbed within 6-5, only to fall behind 8-5 on Harrell's fifth-inning sacrifice fly and another error. Harrell concluded the day 1-for-2 with two RBI.
Norman permitted three fourth-inning runs on run-scoring hits by Clint Gregory and Dillon Smith. But the southpaw retired six of the next seven batters he faced and benefited from Cooke's pick-off play in the fifth inning.
Jordan Crouthamel's bases-loaded walk pushed the game-winning run across in the seventh. CFCA's Gregory (3-for-4) led off the seventh with a single up the middle and moved into scoring position on consecutive wild pitches from Norman.
After a flyout and walk, Tyler Horkavy launched a run-scoring, sac fly to right field, which pulled CFCA to within 9-8. The Eagles' Tan Sanders snagged the throw and rifled a bullet toward the infield, which set up Norman's dramatic, game-ending play.
"I probably would not have sent him," said Pender. "When I saw him go, there's no call I can make. The boys had to see it themselves and make the play. Fortunately, they made the right throw and it worked out perfectly."
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