The Wayne Country Day Chargers’ bid to win back-to-back state championships ended on Tuesday evening in a 4-3 loss to the Westchester Country Day Wildcats in the N.C. Independent Schools 2A semifinals.
Going into Tuesday’s semifinal game, both teams were playing their best baseball of the season, with Wayne Country Day winning its last eight games in a row while Westchester Country Day won its last 10 games in a row.
With a trip to the state finals at stake, both coaches put their best starting pitchers on the mound. For the Wildcats, it was Josh Hammond.
In nine appearances, Hammond had an earned run average (ERA) of 1.12, and 67 strikeouts. For the Chargers, Sterling Bass stepped up to the mound, who in 16 appearances had an ERA of 3.18 and 55 strikeouts.
Both starting pitchers found their rhythm early on in the game, and in the first three innings of the game, Bass earned six strikeouts and allowed zero runs, while Hammond earned four strikeouts and also allowed zero runs to score.
In the top of the fourth inning, Bass started off the inning with a walk and a strikeout to earn his seventh of the game.
He was removed from the game before facing the next batter due to reaching his pitch count limit. Bass was replaced by Braeden Collins, who found immediate success by striking out the first batter he faced and eventually earning one more strikeout to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Westchester Country Day gifted the Chargers the first run of the game with a fielding error by the right fielder, which allowed Mason Moffett to score from second base and give Wayne Country Day a 1-0 lead.
After making a crucial error in the bottom of the fourth inning, Westchester Country Day answered back in a big way in the top of the fifth.
After the first batter of the inning got on base with a single, Hammond showed that he was a two-way player by crushing a two-run home run over the short right outfield wall. The next batter up for the Wildcats was Tate Vogler, who also sent Collins’ pitch flying over the same right field wall to give Westchester Country Day a 3-1 lead.
After giving up back-to-back home runs, Collins responded with three straight strikeouts to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Everette Johnson opened the inning by advancing to first base with a walk. Up next, Moffett took advantage of the short right field wall by hitting a ball that sailed just over the wall to tie the game up at 3-3 with no outs.
Wayne Country Day head coach Adam Pate said he wasn’t surprised by the home run from Moffett.
“There is no doubt that Mason has been our best bat all year,” Pate said. “I don’t (have) doubt anytime Mason is at the plate, so I was very happy that he got a home run.”
After the home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, Collins got off to a great start in the seventh inning by earning a strikeout against the first batter he faced.
Things started to go south during the next at-bat when he hit the batter with a pitch, putting the go-ahead run on first base with only one out. The next batter he faced was Carson Daniel, who hit the ball deep into the outfield, earning a triple and allowing the runner from first to come home.
Wayne Country Day was able to escape the inning without any further damage, but the Chargers trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the final inning.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, with a trip to the state championship on the line, the Wildcats brought Vogler to replace Hammond and close out the game.
Vogler got to work early in the inning, striking out the first batter he faced and forcing a flyout from the next batter to earn two outs with no runners on base. The Chargers didn’t give up, and with back-to-back singles from Sterling Bass and Andrew Eltz, Wayne Country Day was just a single away from tying the game.
With a chance to extend the game, Everette Johnson came up to the plate, and he got behind 0-2 in the count, but he battled back to make the count 3-2.
With a full count, Johnson got the pitch he was looking for, and he made hard contact with the ball, but it only resulted in a hard ground ball to the shortstop, who threw the ball to the first baseman for the final out of the game.
Pate also said that although he was disappointed not to make it back to the state finals, he was proud of how his team played.
“I’m very proud of my kids,” Pate said. “At the end of the day, this hurts for them a lot more than it does for any adult, and you hate to see them (hurt) like that. When you coach kids as good as the ones that are our group is, they are like children to you, and you would do anything for them.”
With the loss, Wayne Country Day finishes the season with a 24-5 overall record.