Mocksville Legion advances in playoffs

Published 11:13 am Thursday, July 18, 2019

How do you explain the unexplainable? Beating Stokes County in the first round is one thing, but overcoming Concord in the Area III quarterfinals is quite another matter.

The Mocksville Legion baseball team was a hot mess as late as June 26. Sixteen days later, it was outrageously giddy after winning 10-2 at home on July 12 and eliminating the Southern Division’s top seed three games to one. Mocksville has advanced to the point where everyone now says: “These guys can play a little.” It has advanced to the Area III semifinals for the first time in 19 years.

By winning seven of nine and bouncing back from a 9-8 loss in Game Three, Mocksville headed into the next round against Davidson County with a 15-18 record. If Charles Kurfees squeezes a winning record out of the 2019 bunch, he should be crowned coach of the year in the state. Even if he doesn’t, this is a run he’ll never forget.

Assistant coach Andrew Jones said: “To beat a team like Concord was real good. Our lineup, one through nine, is about as hot as you can get. There’s not a batter you can say: ‘We’ve got an out right now.’ That’s about as big a team victory as you can get.”

Jalen Austin did not pitch a masterpiece; he walked six and fell behind 14 of 24 batters. But when the pressure was on, he was splendid. In five innings, he gave up three hits and one run. The only hit he allowed through four was a third-inning, solo homer by the No. 9 batter. At 3-4, he became the top winner on the staff.

Austin’s defining moment came in the fourth. Three walks loaded the bases with two outs, with Mocksville clinging to a 2-1 lead. He fell behind Jake Rowden 2-0. A strike looking and a foul ball evened the count. He caught Rowden looking to end the inning.

Jones: “We call for a slider and the guy watched it. Jalen pitched his butt off. When he needed a pitch, he found it. He pitched really, really well.”

Mocksville drew first blood in the second. Troy Clary and Jacob Campbell drew walks and a balk advanced both. Then David Highman provided a 2-0 lead with a double.

In the fourth, Highman came through again, riding an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left for his second homer of the season. At 3-1, Mocksville could smell it.

Jones: “That changed the whole game. That’s a 3-1 game instead of 2-1. It gave us a little breathing room.”

Parker Ross (five innings, three hits) worked around five walks and kept Concord in the game. But when Concord’s coach turned to reliever Ray Beaver in the sixth, Post 174 started crushing the ball. Clary singled, Campbell walked and Highman singled before the first out, and even that was a productive out (Bailey McKnight’s sac fly).

Jones: “I don’t know why they (pulled Ross after 66 pitches). He was on a roll. Everybody pretty much teed off on (Beaver).

Later in the sixth, Will Cheek slapped one down the third-base line for an opposite-field hit. Joey Szvetitz was hit by a pitch and Highman scored on a wild pitch. After Nick Ward walked, Cheek scored on another wild pitch.

With Concord (13-13) gasping for air, the visitors were knocked out by a haymaker from – who else? – Usher. The three-run homer was his team-high eighth of the year. The seven-run explosion made it 10-1.

Jones: “I told Usher not to use the weighted bat (while warming up). He was swinging that weighted bat and his timing was off. He did what I suggested and boom – it cleared the fence like it was nobody’s business. That was the knife in the heart.”

Fittingly, it was Usher to finished off Concord in relief. He retired his first five batters and struck out three in two innings. He has three saves, all in the last five games.

It was a lot like the first two games, when Mocksville outhit Concord by an aggregate 25-12. Mocksville doubled up Concord in Game Four (8-4). Highman (3-4, three RBIs) and Clary (2-2, two walks) led the way. Concord was determined not to let Ward beat it. On a 12-for-26 tear, Ward was walked four times, twice intentionally.

Usher’s incredible power surge has seen him crank five homers in nine games. Showing gigantic improvement, Campbell is 10-22 during a six-game hitting streak, hiking his average from .181 to .272. And how about Cheek, who extended his hitting streak to eight.

The quarterfinal triumph was a remarkable feat given that Szvetitz put up mortal numbers (4 for 14) for the series and Mocksville did not have catcher Hunter Meacham (vacation in Montana) the entire series. It’s beyond belief that Mocksville is three rounds deep without possessing a single pitcher with a winning record (not counting the guys with only one decision).

Notes

• Mocksville won two playoff series and climbed to the Area III semifinals for the first time since 2000. That year, Mocksville beat Troy three games to none and beat Asheboro (now known as Randolph County) three games to one. In the semifinals, Mocksville lost in five games to Kannapolis.

• By beating Concord three times in four days, Mocksville atoned for a stinging first-round loss in 2007. After winning the first two games 1-0 and 10-6, Mocksville lost the next three (8-5, 8-7 and 11-6). So after going 15-5 and finishing second in the division, Mocksville stumbled against a Concord team that went 8-12 and finished seventh in the regular season.

• Szvetitz (.488) is still on track for the greatest average in program history. Clary (.357), Usher (.339), Ward (.326) and Claus (.315) are next.

• The Area III semifinals pitted Randolph against High Point and Mocksville against Davidson County. It started July 15. Game Four, if necessary, will be at Rich Park on July 18 at 7 p.m. If there’s a Game Five, it will be July 19 at Holt-Moffitt Field in Lexington at 7. … Davidson is 16-8 after taking out Rowan County in four games. While the Warhawgs are clearly the favorite, dismiss Mocksville at your own peril. The last week has proven as much.