War Eagle baseball suffers first CPC loss

Published 9:17 am Thursday, April 18, 2019

By salvaging a split, East Forsyth threw a monkey wrench into the Davie varsity baseball team’s plans of going into next week’s showdown with Reagan with two unbeaten records on the line.

Davie can still win the Central Piedmont Conference by sweeping Reagan, but it won’t be easy taking a broom to the 13-2 Raiders, who have won 11 straight.

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In game one against East at Davie on April 9, the War Eagles resumed their raging glory, 7-2, behind Aaron Williams’ five RBIs and three-hit pitching by Carson Whisenhunt and Anthony Azar.

The offense provided the key support in the third. It started with Michael Shelton’s solid single to center. One out later, Hunter Bowles singled. After Shelton scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch, Garrett Chandler singled and Azar walked. Two runs scored when Williams’ ball was errored.

Williams is a great hitter, a great catcher and a great student. (His GPA is over 4.5, according to coach Bradley Rudisill.) What’s not to like about Williams? Answer: nothing.

His five RBIs were the most by a War Eagle since Whisenhunt’s five at West Rowan on March 15, 2018. At this point, he was first in average (.392), hits (22), doubles (seven), triples (two, tied with Chandler) and RBIs (19). He hit safely for the 15th time in 17 games, including his fourth straight.

“Aaron has been one of the most consistent hitters because of his ability to hit the ball wherever it’s pitched,” Rudisill said. “He has power to all fields. People try to pitch him backwards and he makes adjustments from pitch to pitch. He’s bought into everything we’ve been preaching since day one.”

The Whisenhunt/Azar mound combination was once again sensational. Whisenhunt worked a two-hitter for 5.2 innings, both runs off him were unearned and he struck out nine. He ran his record to 6-0, lowered his ERA to 0.21 and left with 69 strikeouts in 33 innings – the most Ks in seven years (Ryan Foster had 97 in 2012).

“He cruised for five innings,” Rudisill said. “He was pretty much on autopilot. I think he started getting tired (in the sixth).”

Azar’s line: one hit, no runs, no walks, three Ks in 1.1 innings. He shaved his ERA to 1.40 across eight relief outings.

“The good thing about our team is it’s next man up,” he said. “Azar doesn’t just throw it down the middle. He works the corners and works down in the zone.”

As if his relief work hasn’t been enough, Azar singled in the fifth to push his hitting streak to 15 games. Chandler went 2 for 3 and Shelton singled and walked twice as Davie more than tripled East in hits (10-3).

Jacob Campbell, the second baseman, had to leave the game early with what turned out to be pneumonia. Troy Clary, who came in with 18 at-bats as a part-time player, filled in beautifully, going 1 for 1 with a walk.

“The first pitch Troy sees, he hits a line drive to right field,” Rudisill said. “People being able to step up when their number is called is a huge thing.”

East fell to 5-11 and 0-7 in the CPC. Davie (16-1 overall) moved to 7-0 in the league to keep pace with Reagan. Interestingly enough, the War Eagles topped East for the first time since 2007. They went 0-3 against East last year, losing 4-3, 6-3 and 4-1. They had dropped five straight in the series.

“They’re better than their record,” Rudisill said. “They have one-run losses to South Meck and Providence. They might be two of the better teams in North Carolina. They beat Northwest Guilford and Southeast Guilford.”

8-Inning Loss

The CPC can be unkind. It can fill you with unimaginable joy. It can rip out your heart. The rematch at East on April 11 left Davie bruised and bitter.

The Eagles, who blew a 7-2 lead, pulled out a wild 12-10 slugfest in eight innings. Entering the final week of the regular season next week, Reagan is first at 8-0. Davie, which has nailed down at least second, is 7-1.

Starter Spencer Nifong was on top of his game for three innings. When it was 2-0 Davie after three innings, Nifong’s season ERA was 1.24 with seven runs allowed in 33.2 innings. But East came out of nowhere to barge to a 7-2 lead. The second homer of the inning, a three-run shot, chased Nifong, who wound up with a no-decision to remain 5-0 thanks to a magical rally by his teammates.

“(Despite’s East 6-11, 1-7 records), they still have Division-I signees all over the field,” Rudisill said. “They can hit one out at any time.”

With an 8-3 lead after five, East seemed poised for stress-free victory. But the whole ballgame changed again in the Davie sixth. Chandler (.338), Azar (.363) and Williams (.409) strung together singles before Whisenhunt walked and Joe Johnson lifted a sac fly. With two outs, Shelton jumped on the first pitch and jerked a two-run double down the right-field line. Now it was 8-7.

“Michael’s a very good hitter,” Rudisill said of the No. 7 stick. “He got his pitch and put the barrel on it. Right after that, Clary came through with a huge double.”

Clary smoked an 0-1 pitch to right-center, a double that tied the game at 8.

In the bottom of the sixth, a sac fly gave East a 9-8 lead. The first two Davie batters in the seventh were retired. Davie still found a way to not only tie it, but take the lead. Williams smoked a single up the middle. Whisenhunt (.408) hit a soft single between short and third. Now the weight was on Johnson’s shoulders. The .372 slugger smashed a two-run, opposite-field double to right, vaulting Davie to a 10-9 lead.

“They pitched Joe away,” Rudisill said. “Joe stayed on it and shot it over the first baseman’s head.”

A Davie error allowed East to force a tie at 10 in the bottom of the seventh. Davie went down 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth. In the East eighth, an error put the first batter on. Matt Rivers clobbered a 1-2 pitch to center. It left the yard for a walk-off homer.

Just a heartbreaking way to lose.

“We could have thrown in the towel when it was 7-2,” Rudisill said. “That’s a tough way to lose. It was a disgusting way to lose. To see our guys battle back, not many high school teams have the composure to do that. There’s a lot of positives to take away from it. I felt like we won that game. We earned that win. They were given that win.”

The War Eagles suffered a stinger despite putting up the most hits (16) in 34 games. Williams (3-5), Whisenhunt (3-4, double, homer) and Johnson (3-5, four RBIs) had three hits each. Azar (2-5) and Bowles (2-5) added two each.

Notes: Davie slipped to 16-2 with its first loss in eight games. Its other loss also came in extra innings (5-0 in 11 innings to Oak Grove). … Justin Chaffin (one inning) and Azar (2.1 innings) pitched in relief. … East finished with 12 hits, raising Davie’s ERA from 1.09 to 1.60. … Azar kept his hitting streak alive at 16. … Williams delivered multiple hits for the fifth time in seven games. … Johnson has a six-game hitting streak. … Whisenhunt owns three of Davie’s four homers. … Bowles (.333) is not your typical No. 9 batter. … Davie scored the most runs in defeat in 10 years. It lost 14-10 at Orange in 2009.