WELCOME - A heavy rain fell in Welcome late Tuesday afternoon.
Then the North Davidson baseball team put a slow drizzle on Salisbury.
Using a steady pitching performance from freshman Merritt Beeker, two perfect bunts from Jackson Perrell and some timely hitting, the Black Knights eased to a 5-1 win over Salisbury in the third round of the 2-A playoffs at the North Davidson Athletic Complex.
Beeker looked more like Dennis the Menace, dancing in and out of trouble virtually the entire game. But every time, he was able to wiggle free and keep the Hornets at bay.
The southpaw gave up a single in the first, a two-out double in the second, a leadoff walk to the No. 9 hitter in the third, and back-to-back two-out walks in the fourth. But each and every time, he made a big pitch and allowed his defense to help him escape unharmed. While North coach Matt Griffin was never comfortable with runners on base, he was positively thrilled with the way the young southpaw worked under pressure.
“He was good, he was as good as he’s been in a while, probably since the South Rowan game early in the year,” Griffin raved. “Still, he’d get two quick outs and then get out of his routine and out of his mechanics and walk a guy.
“But all in all, it was a great performance by him. He pitched out of some jams, and made some big pitches.”
Salisbury coach Mike Herndon, whose team finished 17-11 after finishing fourth in the Central Carolina Conference, couldn’t disagree with that. “We left some runs out there in the early innings, and that kind of set the tone,” Herndon said. “We didn’t play our best baseball, but that had a lot to do with them (North). But we picked a bad night to play bad.”
North broke the ice in a tense playoff atmosphere in the bottom of the second. Perrell slapped a one-out single up the middle, then stole second off Salisbury starter Jack Fisher. Nathan Burton blooped a base hit to right, and Mason Everhart popped a liner to left to bring home Perrell for a 1-0 lead.
The Knights broke it wide open in the second, thanks to perfect execution and a Salisbury miscue. Carson Simpson led off with a sharp single down the left-field line. On the next pitch, Jake Brown grounded what looked like a perfect double play ball to second base. But Vance Huneycutt couldn’t come up with it, and everybody was safe.
With runners on first and second with no out in a one-run game, Griffin called cleanup hitter Jacob LaFlesh over for a brief conversation. “I probably wasn’t gonna bunt with him,” Griffin said. “I was gonna give him one swing before we did, because he’s not a guy that bunts a lot.”
That was a wise decision. LaFlash slapped the first pitch he saw into left field to drive in Simpson and make it 2-0. After Maddox Johnson’s fielder’s choice put runners on the corners with one out, Griffin did decide to give Perrell the bunt sign. Once again, the call was perfect as Perrell laid a beauty down the third base line and let courtesy runner Mason Helms coast in with North’s third run.
The Knights added some key insurance in the bottom of the fifth. Brown and LaFlesh opened the inning with consecutive singles, and after one pitch to Johnson, Herndon lifted Fisher in favor of reliever Joe Steinman. Steinman struck out Johnson, but both runners moved up on a wild pitch during the at-bat. That set the stage for Perrell, who once again dropped down a perfect bunt to bring in Helms. Burton’s chopper moments later was too tough to handle at short, allowing LaFlesh to race home and stretch the margin to 5-0.
Griffin was relieved to see the Knights use small-ball in their favor, especially with Perrell. “That’s a big part of his game, that’s a big part of our game,” Griffin added. “We have to do that, and the last couple rounds we haven’t got the bunts down that we needed to.
“Tonight we did, and it was a big part of this win.”
Salisbury put together one final threat in the top of the sixth, loading the bases on Chandler Lippard’s single and two North errors. Beeker’s wild pitch allowed the Hornets to get on the board, but Brown came on in relief and got Huneycutt to ground out to first to end the threat. Brown issued a leadoff walk in the seventh, but got three uneventful outs from there to cap the win.
North, the No. 3 seed in the West, awaits the winner of Rutherfordton-Spindal Central and Ledford – who will wait on Mother Nature. Their game, scheduled for Tuesday at R-S Central, was postponed due to rain. With rain forecast for the rest of the week, the Knights will sit and wait for their next opponent.