Varsity baseball loses in finals

Published 9:13 am Friday, May 15, 2015

Davie’s baseball team didn’t quite complete an improbable triumph in the Central Piedmont Conference Tournament, but man, did the War Eagles make a run at it.

After going 5-7 in the regular season to finish sixth out of seven teams, and losing twice each to Reynolds and West Forsyth, Davie knocked off Reynolds (6-5) and West Forsyth (5-3) before meeting top-seeded North Davidson in the championship game.

North barely outlasted Davie in a barnburner, 10-9.

Davie had to win the tournament to guarantee itself a 4-A playoff berth, but it did earn a wildcard, playing a first-round game at East Forsyth on May 13.

“It was fun,” coach Bobby Byerly said of the tournament. “It seemed like we played together for the first time all year. I don’t know if it was the jayvee guys coming up (all the JV sophomores were pulled up) giving energy or what, but all three games were electric. A lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

First-Round Win

Sixth-seeded Davie jumped on No. 3 Reynolds in the second inning of the first round game in Winston-Salem, and the War Eagles held on by a thread in the closing moments to win 6-5.

After losing 2-0 and 1-0 to Reynolds (13-10) in the regular season, Davie improved to 2-4 in one-run games. Reynolds outhit Davie 12-9, but Davie had no errors to Reynolds’ three.

Caleb Wallace provided an unexpected boost, getting the start at DH and going 3 for 3 with two RBIs. Brandon Lankford went 2 for 4.

“Caleb was waiting his turn,” Byerly said. “He had his opportunity and he took advantage of it. He seized the moment.”

Reynolds’ ace, Logan Welch, who beat Davie 2-0 at Reynolds in the regular season, wasn’t available to pitch as he’s nursing a shoulder injury. Ben Casstevens, who beat Davie 1-0 at Mando Field as he threw a four-hitter to outduel Colby Cranfill, got the ball from Reynolds coach Doug Welch, but this time Davie was ready for his assortment of offspeed pitches. He only lasted four innings.

Davie exploded for five runs in the second. Cranfill had the first of five hits in the inning, a double down the left-field line. Forrest Barber bunted and the catcher threw it away at first. After Wallace had an RBI single, Chris Reynolds doubled down the right-field line. Then came an RBI double from Paul Davenport and an RBI single from Lankford.

“When we hit (Casstevens) in the second, we didn’t try to yank his offspeed stuff,” Byerly said. “We went up the middle and to the opposite side. That’s been our demise all year. The breaking ball, we’ve tried to yank it instead of thinking backside. Every hit but one (Cranfill) was middle to right.

Davie, though, would have to sweat it out. Laney Orr socked a two-run homer in the third, cutting Davie’s lead to 5-2. Four singles pulled Reynolds within 5-4 in the fourth. Mitchell McGee reached on an error in the fifth, plating a run as Davie regained a 6-4 lead. A leadoff triple led to a Demons run in the fifth to make it 6-5.

Cranfill, who went six innings to pick up his third win in five decisions, was more deep than Jaguar, but he got the job done, walking one and scattering 11 hits. Nathan Harrell worked a scoreless – but harrowing – seventh to get the save.

“It was not Cranfill’s best,” Byerly said. “He had scouts looking at him. I guarantee you that had him a little tight. He knew they were there because they called him all week. He didn’t find his breaking ball until about the third inning. But he settled in. The top of their order is legit. Their top four are four all-conference players and they went (7 for 15). Two of them are going to (North) Carolina.”

With Davie clinging to the 6-5 lead, the bottom of the seventh was off-the-charts crazy.

When the first batter blooped a hit over Lankford’s head at third, Byerly turned to Harrell. Orr sent one to deep center, but it didn’t have enough legs and McGee hauled it in. On a 1-2 count, Welch, who is headed to UNC, hit a one-iron to center, putting runners at second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases.

Coach Welch called a suicide squeeze, and it backfired on the Demons thanks to catcher Davenport. The ball bounced high off the plate. Davenport grabbed it, stepped on home for a forceout and threw to first for a game-ending double play.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one end like that,” Byerly said. “The hitter thought it was foul, so he didn’t even run until he saw Davenport making the play.”

The War Eagles breathed a sigh of relief.

“We were due one like that,” Byerly said. “There’s nothing easy. We’ve had a lot of these (kind of games). Tonight we did just enough to win.”

Semifinal Win

Isaac Campbell played a huge part in a 5-3 semifinal win over No. 2 West Forsyth. The lefty went seven innings, allowed seven hits, walked two and averaged 13.5 pitches per inning. The semifinals and final were held at Mt. Tabor.

There’s never been a more deserving winner. Campbell was 0-5 despite a stingy 2.14 ERA. He outdueled Jake Mayhew, who beat Davie 2-1 with a two-hitter at Mando Field.

“That was the Isaac Campbell we’ve seen the majority of the season,” Byerly said. “He got in a couple tough situations and worked his way out of it.”

Campbell left the bases loaded in the second and kept Davie’s deficit at 1-0. He kept it 1-0 in the third when he stranded two. He closed with a flourish, working a 1-2-3 seventh.

“He pitched again tonight. He didn’t throw,” Byerly said. “He wanted the ball in the seventh, and that’s what you want out of a pitcher. You want them to want the ball in the last inning.

“He’s got to be the best one-win pitcher in 4-A baseball in North Carolina.”

McGee (2-3), Reynolds (2-4, double) and Lankford (2-4, two RBIs, homer) helped the War Eagles end two streaks: 0-5 following a win and five straight losses to West (13-12). In the regular season, West won 2-1 and 7-6 in nine innings.

With nobody aboard in the fourth, Lankford tied it with one swing, hitting a two-strike homer to center. Mayhew was tagged with the loss after allowing two runs in five innings.

“When Lankford sits back and doesn’t try to yank that breaking ball or something offspeed, it seems like he always hits it on the screws,” Byerly said.

Davie took the lead in the fifth. After Reynolds doubled to right and took third on an error, Davenport hit a sac fly.

Davie punished a West reliever a three-run sixth. McGee’s RBI hit on a suicide-squeeze play led to two runs, and Lankford followed with a run-scoring single.

Afterward, Byerly threw a verbal bouquet to a guy who didn’t even play – JV-callup Jake Barneycastle.

“The last two games our dugout has been electric,” he said. “Believe it or not, it starts with Barneycastle. He has been a sparkplug in the dugout, on the bus, wherever we’re at. He has absolutely given us life. He’s in every play of the game. He’s constantly communicating and talking it up. That to me is what we’ve been missing.”

Close Loss In Final

In a wildly entertaining final against No. 1 North Davidson, Davie rallied to a 9-8 lead after trailing 6-2. It outhit North 13-12 and played considerably better defense (one error to North’s five). But North managed to pull out the offense-fest, 10-9.

Still, it was a character-defining run for the War Eagles.

“Two or three times during the game, I told the kids: ‘Isn’t this fun?’” Byerly said. “You want to win, but that was just a fun game. It had everything.”

“It was like they were destined to win,” North coach Mike Meadows told The Dispatch. “They got hot at the right time. They swung the bats ridiculously (well).”

Davie used two pitchers. Jalen Scott took the loss even though he blanked North in the fifth and sixth to keep Davie in contention. The fourth North pitcher was the only effective one, as Jackson Meadows gave up no runs on two hits in three innings. Interestingly enough, it was Meadows’ first mound appearance all year.

“It’s a great win,” his father said. “It was great to get Jackson on the mound. He’s healthy now and he gives us a closer.”

Craig Colbourne did everything he could to help Davie make a bid for its first CPC title since 2012, going 4 for 4 with two RBIs. Scott (2-3) and McGee (2-4, two RBIs) had two hits each. Lankford (1-3, two RBIs, homer) belted his sixth homer. He’s one from tying for fifth on the single-season list. Ryan Harrell connected for his second homer, and it provided a 2-0 lead in the first.

One of North’s four hits in the second came during an 11-pitch at-bat, and North had a 6-2 lead before the dust settled. Davie inched within 6-3 in the second. Colbourne, Scott, N. Harrell and McGee delivered hits during a two-run third that cut the deficit to 6-5. E.P. Reese’s mammoth two-run homer pushed North’s advantage to 8-5 in the third.

But Davie charged in front during a rousing, four-run fourth. After Davenport singled, it was bombs away for Lankford, who left the yard for the second time in as many days. The center fielder lost Colbourne’s fly ball in the lights, and it fell in for a double. Scott circled the bases on a four-base error, or “Little League home run,” and Davie had the 9-8 lead.

“We faced some adversity and didn’t handle it real well,” Meadows said. “We’ve got to be able to fight through adversity. We’ll talk about that.”

In the North fourth, an Austin Beck triple and a single tied the score, and another single vaulted North ahead 10-9.

North’s savior was Beck, who went 3 for 4 and robbed Lankford in the fifth. Reynolds singled and stole second. With two outs, Lankford hit a laser to right-center. Beck made a diving catch, or it’s 10-10.

“Beck made a catch that probably nobody else in the CPC could make,” Byerly said. “He laid out horizontal.”

Davie missed a golden opportunity in the sixth, flying out to shallow center with runners at second and third and getting picked off second for the third out. When Davie went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, it was the only time the side was retired in order all game.

The teams split in the regular season. North’s seventh straight win lifted it to 19-4. The War Eagles, who had allowed 12 runs in four games, slipped to 12-11. It was the first time in six years they lost when scoring nine runs. They lost 14-10 at Orange in 2009.

“We had a couple base-running blunders,” Byerly said. “They missed plays in the field that helped us out. We had a couple calls that went our way. They had a couple that went their way. So it was an all-around great game.”