Dixon delivers game-winning hit, Warriors clinch playoff berth
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 2, 2013 1:47 PM
CLAYTON -- Eastern Wayne claimed its most-pivotal road victory of the season on a breezy, misty Wednesday evening.
And strengthened a heartbeat that nearly flat-lined just two weeks ago.
Josh Dixon delivered the game-winning hit in the top of the ninth inning and the Warriors eliminated Cleveland, 6-3, in quarterfinal-round action of the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference baseball tournament.
Eastern Wayne (11-11 overall) clinched the league's fourth and final berth for the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, which kept a streak of 10 straight postseason trips intact.
"I'm tickled at our bunch for battling and keep working," Warriors head coach Jabo Fulghum said. "They've been through a lot of adversity. We were fortunate to out-play them at the end (tonight)."
Tied at 2-2 through eight innings, Brandon Johnson reached safely on an error to start the Eastern Wayne ninth. Ryan Kelly connected on his second sacrifice bunt to move Johnson into scoring position.
Ryan Faucette singled to left field.
Dixon worked Rams reliever Chase Jackson for a couple of pitches and with the infield in, "golfed" a base hit between third and shortstop. Johnson and Faucette scored to make it 4-2.
"I thought about squeezing with him at the plate," Fulghum said of Dixon. "I said 'hey, he's hit the ball so hard tonight, I'm not going to take the bat out of his hands.' Our next hitter had struggled a little bit behind him.
"He put it in play. Faucette gets a good jump on that one and we score two. The ball wasn't hit that hard to the left fielder, but we were going to challenge that left fielder."
Jeremy Lancaster plated Dixon with a fielder's choice and later scored on Zach Smith's sharply-hit single to left field. Cleveland (11-12) committed three errors during the frame and was denied its first-ever playoff bid in the program's four-year history.
Dixon's base knock was just the Warriors' second with a runner in scoring position. Eastern Wayne left the go-ahead run stranded in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
"I was looking change-up and that's what he gave me," said Dixon, who finished night 4-for-5 with three RBI. "(Early) we just couldn't get anybody to swing the bat and he (Cleveland starter Kodi Whitley) was sitting us down left and right."
Whitley yielded two earned runs on six hits and fanned seven Warriors in eight innings, but took the no-decision.
Cleveland (11-12) seized a 2-0 lead on run-scoring extra-base hits from Whitley and Cody Johnson in the second and third innings, respectively. The Rams stranded the go-ahead run at third base in the fifth inning and hit into a crucial 1-2-5-2 double play in the sixth.
"A big defensive play," Fulghum said.
Dixon induced the DP grounder and notched the win in relief of Faucette, who faced two batters in the sixth after the Warriors tied the game at 2-all in the fifth on Dixon's RBI single and a Whitley wild pitch.
A right-hander, Dixon permitted one earned run on two hits and struck out four in a four-inning stint.
Eastern Wayne picked up just its fourth road win in 10 tries this season.
"We were struggling at first, and about two games ago, things started the click and now we're playing great ball," Dixon said. "Coach told us to be ready for Friday and that we've come a long ways. We've got Aycock and they've beat us twice.
"I think it's time we owe them something."
Game time is 6 p.m. in Pikeville.
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