WENDELL — It took one masterful pitching performance for the Fike High baseball team to reach the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
Saturday’s second-round display at the plate against Corinth Holders required a second flawless performance on the rubber. While the combined efforts of sophomore starter Jaelynn Melton and senior Brandon Winstead were sufficient to keep the Golden Demons in the game, a four-hit output and a complete game from Pirate right-hander Kody Cyr sent the Golden Demons out of the postseason with a 2-0 loss.
Fike, the No. 30 seed of 32 entrants in the East region, had its season ended with a 12-11 record. Corinth Holders reached the third round for the first time in program history, improving to 17-7 as the No. 19 seed. The Pirates will visit No. 11 Northern Guilford in next week’s third round.
“Taking defensive swings early in the count, we’ve got to do a better job of that,” Fike head coach Buck Edmundson said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come through tonight in those situations. But the situations were there, and in those times, in the key point of the state playoffs, you’ve got to capitalize on those situations.”
The situations referenced by Edmundson were opportunities to put runs on the board against Cyr in the second and sixth innings. In the second, Winstead led off with a single, stole second and moved to third after Melton reached on a throwing error. Fike had runners on second and third with one out following the error, but Cyr, the owner of a three-pitch repertoire, was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat. Demon hitters struggled in particular with Cyr’s curveball, consistently getting out in front of it.
On the mound, Melton dodged one bout of danger in the bottom of the first after a single, walk and hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. But Melton got Corinth Holders designated hitter Logan Whitley to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, keeping the contest scoreless.
However, Melton wasn’t as fortunate in the fourth, where Corinth Holders struck for both of its runs. Right fielder Tate Proctor singled, moved to second on a passed ball and advanced to third on Whitley’s sacrifice bunt. Will Jones’ single up the middle plated Whitle. Melton was pulled for Winstead after hitting the next batter in Kahlil Hodge.
Melton lasted 3 1/3 innings and allowed three hits, while striking out one and walking two. Winstead, who struck out 12 in a first-round win Tuesday at Southern Lee, put his desire to win on display quickly in relief.
He fielded a ball off the bat of catcher Carson Sakowski and noticed no Demon was in position to cover third on a force play. Thus, he began a sprint to the bag in the effort to retire Jones, ultimately launching himself on a dive towards the bag. But Jones was ruled safe, and Alec Seaton’s sacrifice fly to right field allowed Jones to touch home with the game’s final run.
“I wanted it bad,” Winstead reflected. “I wanted it really bad. I didn’t want it to end like that. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.”
Winstead went on to pitch the next 2 2/3 innings without allowing a hit. He struck out four and didn’t allow a walk as the Demons drew their proverbial line in the sand facing elimination.
“Melton’s not bad,” Corinth Holders head coach Adam Weaver said. “And we knew what we were going to get when Winstead stepped on the mound. But with him throwing 93, 97 pitches on Wednesday, we didn’t know how much we would see of Winstead. We knew we were going to see him, but we didn’t know much we would see him. Lucky for us, we put some runs on the board before he came in.”
Fike threatened to put two runners on base in the fifth after freshman designated hitter Myles Cyrus walked. Freshman first baseman Zach Pittman was hit by a Cyr offering, but the home-plate umpire ruled that he leaned over the batter’s box to take the impact. Edmundson argued, but to no avail as Pittman was sent back to the plate, lining out to shortstop to end the half inning. Corinth Holders drew three hit batsmen from Fike.
The Demons had their best chance to draw even or take the lead in the top of the sixth as rain showers began to pelt the playing field. Senior Hunter Lee reached on an infield single and Winstead got a blooper to drop between the shortstop and left fielder. Melton walked with two outs, loading the bases.
But on a 1-0 count, junior Jonathan Bass skied a popup to Sakowski behind the plate, turning Fike away. The Demons, in outhitting the Pirates 4-3, left seven runners on base.
Pittman drew a two-out walk in the seventh, but Cyr got Lee to ground out to end the game. Cyr, in pitching the distance, struck out seven and walked four.
Lee, Lavaris Speight, D.J. Daniels, Winstead and Shakuan Daniels played their final games for the Demons. Winstead was the only Fike player with more than one hit, collecting half of his team’s output in going 2 for 3.
“Our defense was pretty solid,” Winstead said. “We didn’t hit the ball in key moments. Bases loaded, you’ve got to come up big in that (sixth) inning. But it is what it is.”