05/24/11 — NL-EW preview

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NL-EW preview

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 24, 2011 1:47 PM

We meet again.

For the fifth time.

Perennial Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference powerhouses Eastern Wayne and North Lenoir square off tonight with an eastern regional championship berth on the line in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

First pitch is 7 p.m. in New Hope.

The Warriors (18-7 overall) have won two of three meetings during regular-season and postseason play. The teams also scrimmaged each other in late February.

"We should know each other's pant size by now," joked Eastern Wayne head coach Jabo Fulghum on Monday. "Seriously, we're playing a good club. My thoughts are we're going to have to play our best game tomorrow night to win. They're hot right now and we're playing well.

"Our work is going to be cut out for us."

Eastern Wayne is seeking its first trip to the best-of-three eastern championship series since playing for the state title in 2009. North Lenoir is bidding for its sixth trip to the eastern finals and first since 2007 when it lost to East Rutherford in the 2-A state championship series in Zebulon.

"I think us and Eastern Wayne are very proud to represent the ECC and it speaks well for our conference," said Hawks head coach Jim Montague. "And, I'm hoping it will be a good game."

Defense and pitching have been the Warriors' strong suit in the postseason. Zack Mozingo (7-2) is expected to get the nod tonight -- one week after no-hitting No. 4-ranked Wilson Hunt in second-round playoff action.

Mozingo, who sports a 1.54 earned run average, carried a perfect game into the seventh inning. He threw 104 pitches and logged 15 strikeouts. The junior right-hander will face a North Lenoir offense that is batting .387 as a team and has clubbed 34 home runs this season.

Montague has used the "win each inning" mantra during the playoffs. The Hawks' hitters have battered opposing pitchers, and the defense has minimized its mistakes.

Jacob Kearney will get the start on the rubber for North Lenoir. He's compiled a 7-2 record and 4.14 ERA in 45-plus innings of work. Kearney's biggest improvement, according to Montague, has been his ability to understand when to change speeds in the count and keep hitters guessing in the box.

"We knew coming into the year what our strengths and weaknesses were," said Montague. "It's a tribute to our players making the adjustments. We're not your typical number four seed team (in the playoffs)."

The winner faces either once-beaten Northeast Guilford or Asheboro in the regional championship round.

"There's no secrets in this game and it's going to be about execution ... who can string it together the best," said Fulghum. "You hate someone is going to have to end their season tomorrow night because you have two teams who are playing very well right now."