What a finish: War Eagles walk off with high drama

Published 1:43 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

While the Davie varsity baseball team is hitting just .233 with 11 extra-base hits in 10 games, a dominating pitcher can be the tide that lifts all boats. We saw that with Braeden Rodgers in a 5-1 win over East Forsyth on March 16, we saw it from Jaydon Holder  in a 1-0 win over Reagan on March 21 and we saw it again from Rodgers in a 2-1 win over Reagan on March 24.

By hanging its hat on two doggedly competitive arms, Davie has become a legitimate contender in the topsy-turvy Central Piedmont Conference.

But Davie doesn’t win either Reagan game without Coy James and Davin Whitaker. All James did was score the game’s only run in the first meeting and knock in the game-winner in the rematch. Whitaker appears to be finding his stroke, going 4 for 10 with a home run in three games last week.

“This is playoff-caliber baseball, so it’s fun to watch them compete,” coach Joey Anderson said. “They’re growing with every game. This was definitely a very good win (2-1 to sweep Reagan). We just have to keep going.”

Davie 1, Reagan 0

Davie was held to two hits by Reagan senior Levi Strahm, who left after the fifth inning on March 21. Luckily for the home team, Holder answered the call by throwing a five-hit shutout.

“They would hit a ball hard off Jaydon, and then Jaydon would kick into another gear,” Anderson said. “You could tell both of them (Rodgers the game before against East Forsyth and Holder against Reagan) went in with a different mindset. They both pitched the best games I’ve seen them throw in two years. You could tell both of them think they belong with the best of the best now. Every time Jaydon needed (a strikeout), he got it done.”

Holder was absurdly efficient, throwing 55 of 72 pitches for strikes. The senior southpaw did not issue a single walk, fanned nine of 27 batters and lowered his ERA to 1.35 through four starts.

“We had a game plan and he felt good about it and executed very well,” assistant coach Ross Hoffner said. “His fastball location was working well and his ability to throw the changeup was something key that has been missing.”

“We’ve been talking to him about he had to have that other pitch to keep people offbalance, and his change is probably his best pitch, especially when he’s on,” Anderson said. “And he was on. He had that change moving.”

Reagan got a one-out double in the first, but Holder retired 11 straight between the first and fourth innings.

Davie missed a chance to break through in the fourth. Parker Aderhold and Brady Marshall both walked with one out. They moved to second and third, but a strikeout and groundout kept the score 0-0.

Holder dodged a bullet in the fifth. With runners at second and third and one out, he got a strikeout on three pitches for out No. 2. He fell behind the next batter 3-1, but got a strike looking before a swing-and-miss for strike three.

“They didn’t execute when they had runners in scoring position, and we didn’t do a very good job of it either,” Anderson said. “Our situational hitting has to get better. In those situations, you’re hitting for the team; you’re not hitting for yourself, your batting average or anything else. We’ve faced some great pitchers and our batting averages show it. Some of our guys are frustrated because they’re good hitters and they haven’t beaten that guy on the mound.”

Davie made it happen in the fifth. Krause snapped Strahm’s no-hitter with a two-strike infield hit. James reached on a fielder’s choice and was on first with two outs. Before Parker Simmons saw a pitch, James proved that speed matters, especially when runs are at a premium. Strahm, a lefthander, tried a pickoff throw. It was wild and the first baseman had no chance. James took off and never slowed down. While the first baseman and right fielder were scrambling furiously to retrieve the ball, James – this is hard to believe – scored all the way from first.

“The right fielder was shaded over (toward center) because Simmons was up and they were playing him to pull, so the right fielder was caught over there in no-man’s land,” Anderson said. “The pickoff throw was not even close, so Coy half-slid back, turned up and started gettin’ it. It was a race between the first baseman going to get it and the right fielder trying to get it. He picked it up about when Coy was at shortstop, and I was waving him on. I thought the third baseman was obstructing his path, so I put my hands up to show the umpire that he was blocking his path. Everybody thought I was holding him up and Coy kept running. It would have taken two perfect throws to get him and he slid in right before the tag. (Reagan coach Gary Nail) came out to       argue that he was out, but the umpire was right on top of it.”

Simmons walked and Whitaker got Davie’s second and final hit on a ball that deflected off the second baseman. But Strahm got a big out to keep it 1-0.

After Holder faced four batters in the top of the sixth, Davie had a chance to break it open in the bottom half. Marshall and Ty Goodson had walks and Cooper Bliss’ hit by pitch loaded the bases with one out. But back-to-back strikeouts snuffed out that rally.

That put tons of pressure on Holder’s left arm. With runners at the corners and one out, the batter looked at three straight strikes. Moments later, the runner from first went on an early steal. Holder let him go and kept his focus on the guy in the batter’s box. Reagan had the potential go-ahead run at second with two outs.

“He tried to get Jaydon to balk,” Anderson said. “Jaydon didn’t panic. I was worried at that point because I knew they were going to try something. After we got a weird run, I thought they might get a weird run back. But Jaydon kept his poise and then he went after that guy.”

Holder punctuated a lights-out performance by striking out the final batter. His ninth K made the hair on your neck stand up. The War Eagles stopped a five-game losing streak to Reagan (5-4 overall) and earned their first 1-0 win since April of 2017, when Carson Whisenhunt tossed a two-hitter in a 1-0, eight-inning win over Mt. Tabor.

Bliss, Aderhold and Marshall were difference-makers defensively as Davie made just one error compared to four by the Raiders.

“It took a team to win that game,” Anderson said. “We played stellar defense. I added Cooper at the end of the game as a defensive replacement and he went back and caught a pretty tough ball in the gap in left-center, which was a huge play (to get the first batter of the sixth). Aderhold had a really good game at first. There were some errant throws that he dug. Simmons had to go quite a bit over on a grounder to second and Aderhold had to stretch and keep his foot on. Brady made a strong throw (from third) to first. Plays like that change the game and give your pitcher confidence.”

Notes: Davie’s batting average dropped to .219 after this game. “We have to somehow wake up the bats,” Anderson said. “Maybe I have to kill a chicken or something like that.”

Davie 2, Reagan 1

In Pfafftown on March 24, Rodgers produced a sequel to his two-hitter against East Forsyth. The junior lefty was spectacular again as Davie squeaked out another nailbiter.

The hard-luck loser was senior lefty Aidan Cluskey, who went 5.2 innings with one walk for Reagan.

Rodgers hurled a four-hitter with three walks and eight Ks. He finished at 89 pitches, or 12.7 per inning. He raised his record to 3-0 and trimmed his ERA to 0.95 across four starts. In his last two outings, he’s allowed two runs and six hits in 14 innings.

“He attacked them right off the get-go and let the defense play,” Anderson said. “We had a player thrown out at home and at third, but Braeden didn’t let the momentum change. He kept doing his thing and had another stellar performance. He’s kept his pitch count down because he’s going at batters.”

Cluskey hit James in the top of the first, which proved costly for the home side. Simmons pushed James to second with a sac bunt. Then Whitaker came through with a run-scoring single.

In the Reagan first, catcher Drew Krause made his presence felt. A leadoff single was erased when Krause threw him out trying to steal.

“Davin’s hit and Drew throwing that kid out set the tone,” Anderson said. “They only tried to run one more time. Drew had a very good game.”

Davie had a tough time on the bases in the third. James was cut down trying to swipe third and Simmons was nailed at home on Whitaker’s second hit of the game.

Reagan tied it 1-1 in the fourth, but Davie answered right back in the fifth. Ty Miller singled with one out. With two outs, you-know-who doubled off the fence to give Davie the 2-1 lead. It was James’ fifth double of the season.

Davie stranded Marshall, Aderhold and Krause in the sixth, but Rodgers faced the 7-8-9 batters in the seventh – and they went down in order as Davie completed a regular-season sweep of a well-respected rival.

“Braeden’s curveball, cutter and everything he throws, he’s being efficient with it,” Anderson said. “It’s a testament to what Ross is calling and what Braeden and (assistant Joey) Cress have worked on. Braeden works hard.”

Davie was perfect defensively.

“We had some good defensive plays all around,” he said. “There were a couple swinging bunts that Braeden made good plays on. He snagged one hit up the middle. Brady snagged one before it got in the hole.”

Notes: Davie doubled Reagan in hits (8-4), getting two from Whitaker (2-4) and one from James (1-2), Simmons (1-3), Marshall (1-3), Aderhold (1-3), Krause (1-3) and Miller (1-3). “Sometimes that guy on the mound is a little bit better than you want him to be,” Anderson said. “But we had hits in key spots.” … Davie (6-4 overall) won back-to-back CPC games by one run for the first time since 2019, when Davie squeezed past West Forsyth 5-4 and 3-2. … The CPC standings are insane at the moment. Davie came into the week in fourth, but only one game out of a share of first. West Forsyth, Reynolds and East Forsyth are 5-1 and Davie is 4-2. Glenn (3-3) and Reagan (2-4) are next. … Between the Reagan games, Davie let a nonconference game at North Davidson slip away on March 23. Things were looking good when the War Eagles, who got two hits from Jackson Sink and a homer from Whitaker, took a 5-3 lead to the bottom of the seventh. But they spit the bit in North’s final at-bat. Brayden Hill’s two-run homer tied it. After two more hits, North scored on a wild pitch to walk off with a 6-5 decision. Davie fell to 1-3 in one-run games. “It was a tough loss because I felt like we were the better team,” Anderson said. “And we played like the better team until we got caught up in some drama in the seventh inning. I made some changes – I still stick behind my changes – but it didn’t work out our way.” … North (5-4) won its fourth in a row.