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Friday night’s 1-A/2-A Coastal Plain Independents Conference varsity baseball championship game in Fleming Stadium crawled into the fifth inning — prompting Greenfield assistant coach Chance Reynolds to muse: “We may have to shave again before this one is over. It’s getting some age on it.”
However, the three-hour marathon certainly appealed to 1-A host Greenfield.
The Knights of head coach Daniel Johnson walked off with their first CPIC championship since 2015 (the year of their state championship) by an 18-8 margin against 2-A Wayne Country Day when senior second baseman Luke Flaherty walloped a three-run double with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The blast, in the sprinkling rain, enforced the 10-run lead or mercy rule.
Already assured at least a share of the conference title, Greenfield finished 7-1 in the CPIC and enters the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A playoffs with a 13-6-1 record. The Chargers ended the regular season at 6-2 in the conference and 10-8 against all foes.
“Amazing!” sophomore Justin Holland, the winning pitcher in relief, described the Knights’ accomplishment. “To come from where we were last year, it’s amazing. It’s a great feeling to be able to throw water (in celebration) on Coach Johnson.”
From the outset, Johnson had attempted to ease the tension by reminding his players they already owned a share of the championship.
“The whole point was to keep them relaxed,” he explained. “Certainly, it would be nice if we did win it (outright).
“We knew we had a chance to be OK. But we don’t hit the ball a ton; we scrapped and clawed for everything we got. We just tried to put the ball in play and force the other team to make a mistake. Then, we try to make pitches and play defense. That’s kind of the way we played tonight.”
The Knights overcame 4-0 and 7-3 deficits and allowing eight unearned runs. Greenfield left the bases loaded each of the first five innings and stranded 16 base runners for the game. However, 18 walks from five Wayne Country Day pitchers and six errors offset 11 strikeouts.
“Frustrating” was arguably a mild term from head coach Michael Taylor in assessing Wayne Country Day’s plight.
“Very frustrating,” he commented. “This is the worst, most frustrating game we’ve had all year. You can’t give (18) walks, hit batters and passed balls in the last inning. And I don’t know how many errors we had. This is a tough way to end it. We knew we were playing for a share of the conference title, and didn’t get it done.”
Taylor acknowledged the players are somewhat unpredictable teenagers, but contended: “This deep in the season, the things we did tonight, you can’t do and be successful.”
Greenfield finally claimed the lead for the first time at 10-8 with three runs in the fifth. The only hits were singles from sophomore shortstop William Smith and sophomore first baseman Nate Woodard. The Knights grabbed the lead on the daring execution of the suicide-squeeze bunt by eighth-grader Cason Price.
The Chargers utilized three pitchers in the sixth, when Greenfield exploded for 11 runs on three hits, six walks, a pair of misplayed fielder’s choices and four Wayne Country Day errors.
Woodard, a transfer from North Johnston High, and Flaherty each doubled and Woodard also singled. Woodard batted 4 for 6 with five runs batted in. Flaherty drove in four.
Greenfield scored three runs in the second and third innings without the benefit of a hit. However, Wayne Country Day starting pitcher Tanner Willman, mentioned as the ace by his coach, and reliever Case Kermode were gracious with six walks and a hit batsman.
Starting Greenfield freshman right-handed pitcher Jacob Wiggs, the No. 3 starter, yielded to Holland with two outs in the second inning. Both allowed four unearned runs. In 4 1/3 innings, Holland gave up four hits and three walks while striking out l0.
READY TO PITCH
“I had been ready to come in,” said Holland, who started the game behind the plate. “I have been ready since the Friendship game (earlier in the week). My arm was sore but I rested it (Thursday). I came in today knowing I was going to have to pitch.”
The Chargers’ three unearned runs in the fourth didn’t shake Holland.
“I just put it in the back of my mind and had the mindset that I was going to strike everybody out; they were not going to do any more damage; and we were going to come in and get some runs,” he remarked.
“It was a total team effort. Like coach said, there were so many right things that I can’t name them all. But we had to be mentally tough.”
Johnson cited Price’s bunt, Flaherty’s walk-off hit, a ton of Wayne Country Day mistakes and Holland’s mound performance.
“Justin did an outstanding job,” Johnson declared. “We are trying to find a third pitcher for the playoffs, and we found one tonight. He was outstanding.”
Greenfield is hopeful of being seeded as high as No. 2 in the 1-A playoffs that begin late next week.
Score by innings:
Wayne Country Day 040 301 — 8
Greenfield 012 04(11) — 18
WP-Justin Holland 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 SO. LP-Avery Browning 1 1/3 IP, 1 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wayne Country Day: Caleb Brewer 2-2, 2B, Carns Edmondson 1-3, 2 RBI; Case Kermode 1-4, 2 RBI; Greenfield: Nate Woodard 4-6, 2B, 5 RBI; Luke Flaherty 1-5, 2B, 4 RBI; Patrick Smith 1-3.