Jags survive battle with north, win league title

Published 10:18 am Thursday, May 12, 2022

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

A fearless sixth grader (Brandon Forest of Ellis) opposed a formidable flame-thrower (Brady Marshall of North Davie) in the conference tournament championship game on May 5 at Ellis.

In a baseball battle for the ages, the Jaguars scratched out a run in the bottom of the sixth and prevailed 1-0.

“I had the water cooler dumped on me for the second time in my career,” said Ellis’ 72-year-old coach, Mike Dinkins. “I said: ‘Whoever watched this game, you just saw one heck of a ballgame. You ought to give these kids a hand.’”

The Wildcats had opportunities in the first, second and third, and each time they came up empty. In the top of the first, there were consecutive walks with one out. Forest got a strikeout. Then catcher Ayden Sanders, who was crucial to the win in more ways than one, made a snap throw to first to pick off a runner for the third out.

In the second, North’s Blake French led off with a single, but was ultimately stranded. In the third, a Wildcat reached on an error. The next batter failed to get a bunt down and Sanders nailed French trying to steal second.

“We had a few mental mistakes that cost us,” North coach Trevor Gooch said. “The first and probably our best chance to score was in the first inning.”

The only run of the game finally came in the sixth, and Ellis did it without getting a hit. With one out, Colin Harrison worked a fullcount walk. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and trotted to third on a balk. Three pitches later, Harrison scored on a wild pitch. Marshall struck out the next two, but Ellis had the lead.

On April 20, Forest pitched a three-hitter over five innings as Ellis whipped North 11-1, which avenged a 5-2 loss to North on April 20. Forest tossed a two-hitter for six innings, overcoming six walks with nine Ks and leaving after his 99th pitch.

“Brandon pitched one heck of a game,” Dinkins said. “Boy, did he perform, especially for a sixth grader. He’s got a nice little curveball.”

In the top of the seventh, Dinkins gave the ball to Sanders, who slammed the door. With the count 3-2, he struck out the first batter looking. Then he induced back-to-back groundouts to shortstop Coston Calamarino. Not only did Sanders throw out two runners, not only did he finish off the ‘Cats in 17 pitches, he was the game’s only player with multiple hits (2 for 3).

“He came to me after about three games and said: ‘Coach, I pitch a little in travel ball.’ I said: ‘Well, let’s go to the bullpen. We need somebody in relief.’”

It was a giddy-beyond-belief moment for the Jaguars because they managed to go through Marshall, who was Mr. Unhittable all season. He walked two and struck out 12 in a three-hitter.

“Brady had a strong performance and kept us in the game,” Gooch said.

Marshall’s hitting/pitching stats for the season were staggering. He hit .595 (22-37) with 32 runs, four homers, 24 RBIs and 25 walks. On the mound, the eighth-grade righthander struck out 70 in 30.1 innings and left with an ERA of 0.92.

“He throws the ball so hard,” Dinkins said. “He’s probably the fastest pitcher I’ve ever seen in the county, and he struck out several with his curveball.”

While Sanders had half of Ellis’ hits, Harrison was 1-2 with a walk and two stolen bases. Logan Allen (1-3) had the other hit.

French and Tanner Steinour both went 1-3 for North.

“Tough loss,” Gooch said. “We played hard but could not get the big hit.”

Notes: The Wildcats finished 12-3-1 and eighth graders Marshall, Josh Whitaker, Braxton Hunter, Nathan Nuckols, Brice Wilson, Jacob Morgan and Bracken Byington helped them carve out a 25-4-1 record across three seasons. “It was a great season,” Gooch said. … Ellis, which beat South Davie 13-3 in the semifinals, finished 10-4. … In the other semifinal, North rolled past North Carolina Leadership Academy 14-4 as Wilson struck out six in two relief innings. Noah Potts, Morgan and Ty Sain all went 2-3, including a homer from Potts.