SOUTHERN PINES — Missed opportunities has been the name of the game this season for the Fighting Scots baseball team and Wednesday’s semi-finals of the SAC-8 tournament was no different.
Scotland left 25 runners on base in Southern Pines as they battled the regular season champion Pinecrest Patriots for a bid to the SAC-8 conference championship.
“It’s kind of been the theme of our season, we’ve been really good at getting guys in scoring position and we’re one Texas leaguer — pop fly that falls in between the infield and outfield and results in a base hit — away from having 22 wins this year,” Scots head coach Chad Hill told WLNC. “I love our kids and they battled their hearts out. We had them on the ropes and good pitchers find a way and he did. We just couldn’t capitalize on our base running.”
In five of the seven innings, the Scots lead off batter got on base as Scotland outhit the Patriots, 10-5.
The Scots left two runners on in the top of the second after Stewart Evans led off with a double to center. A strikeout by senior Trey Armstrong gave Pinecrest its first out before catcher Zac Phillips was hit by a pitch. Scots senior Davon Ratliffe laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners into scoring position before a strikeout by Nick Callahan ended the inning.
Pinecrest took a 3-0 lead in the bottom half of the inning junior Bryce Calcutt led off with a single to right before Will Helms got an infield grounder to Scots short stop Daly Marcano.
Marcano tapped the bag to get Calcutt at first and tried for the double play with the throw to Norton at first. It took like the throw was on time as Norton went into a full split, never taking his foot off the bag but the umpire said Helms was safe.
Scots pitcher Michael Johnson got the second out of the inning on a pop out by Austyn Vest. With two outs it looked like the Scots would get out of the inning unscathed until Peyton Grant hit a double to left center. Grant’s double spurred back-to-back singles by Elliot Embler and Dax Ingram.
With a 2-0 lead Pinecrest scored their third run on a pass ball that ricocheted off Phillips face mask. The umpire appeared to call time to indicate it was a foul ball but Embler scored from third and the officials let the run stand.
Trailing 3-0, the Scots got two runs back in the top of the third on an infield chopper to third by Evans and a single to right by Armstrong that scored Matt Sellers who reached on an error and Daly Marcano who reached on a walk.
Norton reached on an infield hit, but was tagged out at home plate on a pass ball for the second out. With two runners on, Pinecrest started Nick Pry buckled down and struck out Phillips to end the Scots rally and the inning.
“You have to tip your hat to Nick (Pry) because when we had runners in scoring position he bared down,” Hill said.
Pry threw 6 2/3 innings before reaching his pitch limit allowing two runs off eight hits with two errors, one walk and 12 strikeouts. Ingram came on in relief to face the final batter of the seventh inning.
The Scots threatened in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs before Pry picked up back-to-back strikeouts and a pop out to get out of the inning. Pry struck out the Scots first two batter in the top of the seventh before reaching his pitch count. Ingram threw to Evans to end the game on a hard hit line drive to right that went right into an awaiting Patriot glove.
Johnson picked up the loss for the Scots tossing 4 2/3 innings allowing three runs off four hits with two errors, five walks and two strikeouts. Norton came on in relief throwing just over one inning allowing zero runs off one hit.
“MJ has come into the No. 2 role very nicely, in the second inning he wasn’t laboring. There were a couple of balls that we could have got out of the inning with a double play and their guys hustled down the line and beat it out, some unlucky bounces,” said Hill. “He started the third time through the line-up and that’s typically where he’s gotten into some trouble and (Austin) Norton was ready.”
The Fighting Scots end the regular season with a 15-10 record, which was just enough to advance them to the state playoffs next week.
“We won’t know anything until Monday, but we are in and we’ll be on the road somewhere,” said Hill.
Seeding for the NCHSAA 4A playoffs will take place on Monday, May 7 and first round games will begin on Wednesday, May 9.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]