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When there was no tomorrow, Fike High head baseball coach Buck Edmundson proceeded as if there would be all along.
In the midst of a scoreless game Tuesday night in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs against Southern Lee, Edmundson terminated the outing of his junior ace, Chad Bean, after 56 pitches in the fourth inning.
In came junior Hunter Stokely, who hurled 60 pitches over 3 1/3 innings. During that span the Golden Demons scratched across a pair of unearned runs, one each in the fourth and fifth innings.
All according to plan from the home dugout at Gilbert Ferrell Field.
The bats of the Golden Demons produced two more runs in the sixth inning, and senior Zach Pittman collected the final two outs for the save as Fike reached the fourth round of the postseason for the first time since 2015 with a 4-1 victory.
Fike, the No. 3 seed and champion of the Big East Conference, notched its 23rd win against just one loss and will travel to face No. 2 D.H. Conley in the fourth round on Friday night. Conley advanced by blanking No. 7 Jacksonville 3-0 in other third-round action Tuesday.
By trusting the Fike bullpen and not exhausting Bean any further, Edmundson will have his entire staff available for Friday’s final round of the playoffs, the regional semifinal, where single-elimination style is in play. Pitchers that throw anywhere from 46-60 pitches are eligible to return following two days rest, and both Bean and Stokely met the requirement Tuesday night.
“It was a gamble,” Edmundson said. “We feel good about our other pitchers. Chad has been Chad all year, but it had nothing to do with the hit he gave up. It was all on pitch count. Hunter had gotten loose in the other half inning, Hunter wanted the ball and he felt good about it. Once Hunter told me he was good, I felt it in my gut and went with Hunter. Obviously, it paid off for us.”
The Fike trio sent to the mound limited Southern Lee (16-6), the No. 6 seed, to just three hits. Bean struck out six in three-plus innings, leaving a runner, Thomas Harrington, on first after he departed.
But Stokely entered and retired Southern Lee in order to end the threat. Fike pitching struck out 12 Southern Lee batters.
“I knew me and Chad were going to be on a pitch limit, if we had the lead, to get on to Conley to have our best arms available to pitch against them,” Stokely said. “I just know I have to come out there and throw strikes to get the job done. If I don’t, it’s going to be hard. You’ve just got to throw strikes.”
The Demons scratched across unearned runs in the fourth and fifth. Stokely reached on a dropped third strike, moved to second on Pittman’s single and darted home when a ball off the bat of senior Myles Cyrus was thrown wide of first. In the fifth, junior Mason Lee singled, moved to second on a groundout and scored on an errant pickoff throw.
Southern Lee halved the margin in the top of the sixth on Luke Craig’s two-out RBI double. However, Fike added insurance in the bottom of the sixth on a pair of two-out RBIs. Cyrus doubled to score Stokely, who was hit by a pitch. Bean later slapped a single into right to score a hustling Cyrus from second.
“In deep playoff rounds, it’s usually close games are lost, not won,” Southern Lee head coach David Lee said. “And usually it’s a mistake, or a bunt or a misplayed whatever. Those close games are lost, not won in a lot of situations. They got some timely hits. That’s kind of how it goes.”
Stokely, who slammed the zone with a litany of fastballs to get ahead of hitters, recorded the first out of the seventh before hitting the 60-pitch mark, prompting Edmundson to go to Pittman.
Cyrus was the only Fike player with more than one hit, going 2 for 3. Thomas Harrington was 2 for 3 for Southern Lee.
Craig was saddled with the loss for Southern Lee, allowing five hits over 5 2/3 innings.
“I love the big moments,” Bean said. “I seem to pitch better in them. We’ve got nothing but big moments coming up.”
Score by innings:
Southern Lee 000 001 0 — 1
Fike 000 112 x — 4
WP-Hunter Stokely 3 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO. LP-Luke Craig 5 2/3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO. S-Zach Pittman 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Fike: Myles Cyrus 2-3, 2B, RBI; Chad Bean 1-3, RBI, Mason Lee 1-3, Zach Pittman 1-2; Southern Lee: Thomas Harrington 2-3, Luke Craig 1-2, 2B, RBI.