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KENLY — The North Johnston High baseball team struggled to make the routine play at times in Tuesday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A third-round game with Randleman.
On the other hand, the visiting Tigers, bound for the fourth round for the seventh consecutive year, did not.
North Johnson ceded a total of four unearned runs — including three to break the game open in the fifth inning — as the Panthers, champions of the Eastern Plains Conference, had their run with nine seniors halted in a 5-1 loss.
The Panthers, seeded No. 3 overall in the East region, had their 10-game winning streak snapped in finishing with a 21-4 record. Randleman, co-champion of the PAC-6 Conference, improved to 23-6. Randleman will visit South Granville, the No. 1 seed in the East in the fourth round, after South Granville dispatched Ayden-Grifton 13-2 in other third-round action Tuesday.
Making life exceedingly difficult for North Johnston was a three-error showing by its defense. A hit batsman led to a two-base failed pick-off in the second inning, which scored on a wild pitch. In the fifth, Randleman slowly bled North Johnston to death with a trio of run-scoring, seeing-eye singles only after an error at third base prolonged the inning with two outs.
“To be truthful, I don’t know if they had an earned run,” North Johnston head coach Brian Ford lamented. “I know that we made at least three, maybe four errors and they capitalized on them. Misfortune in the first (actually second) inning with the sun on the pick-off — nothing you can do about that. But all in all, hats off to them. They’re a really good team.”
Dylan Radford, part of the North Johnston senior class, pitched five innings and allowed eight hits. He struck out three and walked two. Just one run was earned in the second inning. Classmate Steven Worley pitched the final two innings without allowing a hit and striking out three.
In the third inning, Randleman extended its lead to 2-0 after Ramsey Perry reached on a one-out walk, moved to second on an infield error and stole third. He touched home on Gunnar Gantt’s single up the middle.
The Panthers pushed across their lone run in the fourth, closing the deficit to 2-1. Junior Brandon Barnes reached on an infield single, stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. He scored on senior Garrett Littleton’s ground out back to Randleman pitcher Bailey Welch.
Yet in the fifth, miscues caught up with North Johnston. Radford hit catcher Chase Newby with a pitch with one out and a two-out fielding error extended the inning. From there, Nos. 7, 8 and 9 in the Tigers’ lineup — Noah Strickland, Zac Kemp and Mason Matthews — slapped slow-rolling RBI singles through the infield to stake Randleman to a four-run cushion.
“We’ve faced great competition all year,” Randleman head coach Jake Smith said. “Nothing against those guys; those guys pitched and competed great, but we’ve seen that caliber of pitching. And I think it just helps throughout the year. We just go with our approach, and we competed really well throughout the night.”
Trailing by the final score, North Johnston threatened in the fifth with singles by senior Logan Hayes, junior Colby Hall and senior Cameron Evans to load the bases with one out. But winning Randleman pitcher Welch retired the next two batters at the top of the North Johnston lineup to turn the Panthers away.
“We had the right people up at the plate,” Ford said of the fifth inning. “All we needed was a hit.”
Welch threw a complete-game six-hitter and struck out eight without a walk. Randleman outhit North Johnston 8-6, with Welch, Strickland and Matthews all collecting two hits. Welch doubled down the right-field line to open the game.
North Johnston careers closed for Noah Sutton, Evans, Holden Hales, Hayes, Littleton, Daniel Martin, Blake McLean, Radford and Steven Worley. Hall was the only North Johnston player with more than one hit.
“It’s bittersweet, yes sir,” Worley said. “We left a good legacy here, I’d like to say. We won a lot of games my four years here and I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to go out with. I love them all.”
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Score by innings:
WP-Bailey Welch 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO. LP-Dylan Radford 7 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Colby Hall 2-3, Brandon Barnes 1-3, R; Blake McLean 1-3, Logan Hayes 1-3, Cameron Evans 1-3; Randleman: Bailey Welch 2-4, 2B; Noah Strickland 2-3, RBI, 2 R; Mason Matthews 2-3, RBI; Zac Kemp 1-2, RBI.