Davie upsets East in Round 2 of playoffs
Published 1:51 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023
By Brian Pitts
Did Davie’s baseball team really go to East Forsyth in the second round of the playoffs on May 12 and knock out the state’s second-ranked team? Did Jaydon Holder really pitch five shutout innings against a 21-win opponent that recently ripped off 13 consecutive wins?
Yeah, it did and he did.
Davie, which finished fourth in the Central Piedmont Conference and is seeded 18th in the West Region, pulled off a quintessential feel-good story by winning 8-3 over East, which was seeded second after winning the CPC’s regular-season title.
Now let’s take a deep breath and think about this. East has three pitchers who have signed with Division-I colleges. Try to imagine these War Eagles trying to explain to their grandchildren someday how they faced all three of those high-profile arms and beat them all. The teams played each other four times; Davie took three. East was 20-2 against non-Davie opponents, 1-3 against the Cinderella War Eagles.
“We knew the pressure was on them,” Davie senior Davin Whitaker said. “We had nothing to lose. We had gotten the job done twice and it has flustered them because they’re not used to losing. We knew how to beat them going in.”
East coach Drew Dull sent Steele Lee to the mound. He’s a 6-6, 205-pound righthander who has signed with High Point. His reliever was Ethan Norby, a lefty headed to East Carolina. On this night, the War Eagles did not see Braxton Stewart, a lefty bound for Louisville, but they saw him March 16 and they won 5-1.
“They helped us out a little bit,” coach Joey Anderson said. “We normally hit right-handers better than we do lefthanders.”
But before Davie’s offense chased Lee, it was energized by a play from D. Whitaker in center field. With two outs in the bottom of the second, Chance Bricolo, one of 14 East seniors, singled up the middle. Whitaker fired a strike to catcher Drew Krause to cut down Stewart for the third out. That kept the score 0-0.
“When I field it, I always look up and take a glance at the runner or the third-base coach because you don’t want to air it out if the guy is going to hold up,” Whitaker said. “I saw the third-base coach waving him. It was a big momentum change.”
Then came Davie’s offensive fireworks. Cooper Bliss started the third with a double down the third-base line. Ty Miller dropped down a perfect bunt that resulted in a hit. Coy James’ single plated one. Parker Simmons’ single drove in two. A fourth run came around when East errored a ball off the bat of Brady Marshall.
Davie kept its foot on the gas in the fourth, when Norby took the mound. Krause doubled. James (walk) and Simmons (hit by pitch) reached. Courtesy-runner Craig McBride scored on a wild pitch. Whitaker made it 7-0 with a two-run single.
James was his usual self in the leadoff spot, going 2 for 3 and reaching base three times. But the biggest offensive hero on this night was Krause, a sophomore who was batting seventh in the order. He went 3 for 4 with three doubles – one to left-center that bounced over the fence, one to right-center and then one down the left-field line.
When Davie beat East in the conference tournament semifinals, Krause went 3 for 3 against Norby. This game gave him six consecutive hits against Norby. That’s big-time.
“All the hard work he’s been doing really showed,” Holder said of Krause.
Defensively, Holder rose to the moment and threw a five-inning gem. The senior lefty spun a three-hitter with one walk and five strikeouts. He only faced 18 batters, or three above the minimum. He had only thrown 62 pitches and he was dealing … but Anderson decided to pull Holder after the fifth before his pitch count got any higher so he’d be eligible for the May 16 third-rounder at Reagan if needed.
“It’s the most I’ve ever seen him focussed before a game,” D. Whitaker said of Holder. “He was relaxed. He didn’t put too much pressure on himself. He just went out there and played ball like we know how to do.”
Holder has four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) and everything was clicking.
“We pounded the fastball and curveball and we mixed in some sliders,” Krause said. “I had confidence with each pitch.”
“That was one of the most locked-in situations I could have been in,” Holder said after picking up his fifth win and trimming his tidy ERA to 2.02. “I knew my defense had my back. Every pitch was working. My curveball was right on point. I could put my fastball on the corner – in or out. And then my changeup – when I needed to get a batter on his toes – I could place that where I wanted it.”
In the sixth, reliever Connor Berg hit a batter, gave up a single and issued a walk. East suddenly had life. With two outs, Jacksen Peabody roped a sinking liner to left. Ty Miller laid out for it but couldn’t make what would have been a spectacular catch. The ball rolled to the fence and the two-run triple cut Davie’s lead to 7-3.
“I thought Ty had a pretty good route on it,” Anderson said. “In that situation, I would have done the same thing. If he makes that play, it’s the nail in the coffin. We still had a big enough lead to where we could hold them off.”
Anderson went to the mound and brought in Cole Whitaker. Bricolo greeted him with a bullet to center, but D. Whitaker charged in and squeezed it for the third out. Davie fans were breathing a sigh of relief.
The War Eagles got an add-on run in the top of the seventh. Marshall singled sharply to center. Two outs later, Krause turned on a pitch and got the double down the line. He was out trying to stretch it into a triple, but Davie had a five-run cushion with three outs to go.
How about C. Whitaker’s punctation mark in East’s last at-bat. On the first pitch, he induced a groundout to second baseman Simmons. On the next pitch, he got a groundout to third baseman Marshall. Three pitches later, he coaxed a grounder to shortstop James, who made an offbalance throw look easy and Davie had a win that will go down as quite a night in the program’s 68-year annals.
“That was the best I’ve seen Cole throw all season,” Krause said. “Cole had struggled a little bit, but I think deep down everybody knows that he’s a dog. I know because I am working with him more than anybody – me and coach (Joey) Cress. With Braeden (Rodgers) and Jaydon throwing so well (this year), I think that pushes Connor and Cole more.”
“I came into the game with a lot of confidence,” C. Whitaker said after his 1.1 innings in a span of six pitches. “I knew the team had my back and I had theirs. I love coming into big situations. It gets me fired up and helps me to compete at the highest level with my team. It was really special for me to have the opportunity to close out a game as big as this one. To have the trust from the coaching staff to put me in a situation like that means a lot to me.”
Notes: Davie outhit East 11-5. Getting one hit were Simmons (1-3), D. Whitaker (1-4, two RBIs), Marshall (1-4), Jackson Sink (1-4), Bliss (1-3) and Miller (1-3). … East had seven- and 13-game winning streaks before losing four of its last five. … The War Eagles advanced to the third round for the first time since 2019, when they received a first-round bye, beat Grimsley and lost to South Caldwell. They won two playoff games for the first time since 2012. Davie (16-10) has its most wins in four years. “We’re competing at a very high level right now,” Anderson said. “(I’m trying to) get Davie baseball back where I think it belongs. It helps that I have coaches like (Ross) Hoffner, Cress and T (Brandon Thalasinos).”… In other second-round games involving the CPC, Northwest Guilford beat West Forsyth 7-1 and Reagan beat Ardrey Kell 8-2.