Roxboro Community School coach Pete Tuck kept a little piece of information to himself about the starting pitcher his boys would likely see in their first-round playoff game against Mitchell.
He didn’t share with his team that Mountaineers’ ace, Zeus Ponder, has already committed to UNC-Asheville, and that he was coming off a game where he struck out 16 batters in five innings of work.
Tuck’s Bulldogs just hit him and rolled to a 7-4 victory in Tuesday’s opening-round game in the 1A West region playoffs.
The Bulldogs had eight hits against Ponder and took advantage of five walks, two coming in a five-run third-inning.
Ponder lasted six innings and was saddled with the loss.
“We just told them to have good at-bats,” Tuck said. “We didn’t say a John Brown thing about this dude being a Division-1 pitcher. We’re just going to show up and see what he’s got. He was good, but the Bulldogs were just a tad better today.”
RCS survived a shaky start.
The Bulldogs got on the board in the first inning when Ian Coleman singled to right to bring home leadoff hitter Michael Clayton from third. That lead quickly disappeared after three unearned runs on two big infield errors.
RCS pitcher William Leonard recorded the first two outs of the inning on a pair of hard hit balls that were snagged on a diving effort by rightfielder Bryson Pleasant and another on a dead sprint by leftfielder Grant Meiggs.
Ponder walked and moved to third on a ground-rule double to left by Caleb Pritchard.
Those two and Braeden Keller all scored on back-to-back throwing errors on groundballs by Coleman and third-baseman L.J. Lunsford. Leonard struck out the next batter to end the inning and only allowed two runners in scoring position for the remainder of the game.
“What helped was that William really had the mindset that he was going to get us out of it,” Tuck said. “That had a lot to do with it. It was still nervy. These boys were still a little nervous and we were able to keep it at three runs knowing that we six more at-bats, we were going to be alright.”
Those nerves disappeared and the Bulldogs took control in the third inning and took a 6-3 lead.
They batted around in the frame, with four hits and two walks. The biggest blow of the inning came on a two-run double down the left-field line by ninth-place hitter Wyatt Sharer. Sharer, the Bulldogs’ designated hitter, reached base in all three plate appearances and had a pair of hits.
The bottom six hitters in the lineup all reached base in the third, with freshmen Josh Wade and Lunsford delivering RBI singles, along with senior Colby Rountree.
The RCS pitching and defense took it from there.
Clayton and Coleman turned a double play to end the Mountaineers’ third and Leonard allowed only three base runners in his final three innings of work.
Mitchell was able to inch closer when Cole Gillespie’s two-out hit to the left side of the infield was just out of the reach of Coleman’s diving attempt at shortstop, allowing Noah Pittman to score from second.
RCS padded its lead in the sixth when Meiggs and pinch-runner Sam Hall perfectly executed a first-and-third early double steal. Hall took an extraordinarily big lead at first base and induced Pritchard, now pitching in relief of Ponder, to throw over. Hall got in a rundown, Meiggs broke for home and scored just in front of the throw to the plate.
Bulldog closer Michael Clayton took care of the rest, tossing a perfect seventh to seal the win. In Clayton’s last three appearance, he’s given up no hits in 4 1/2 innings and struck out 12 of the 13 batters he’s faced.
Leonard picked up the win after six solid innings, scattering seven hits and only one earned run while striking out seven.
“I just wanted (Leonard) to get me through five. He had such a great fifth, with where we were in the order, let’s get another inning out of (Leonard),” Tuck said. “When we can shorten the game like this, that’s a big help for the Bulldogs. When we get a lead in the seventh inning, Michael Clayton’s coming. To me that’s what we’ve got to do.”
This was the program’s first playoff victory since advancing to the third round in the 1A East in 2013. The win against Mitchell snapped a stretch of five consecutive postseason disappointments.
“If there was any pressure for me, it was to get another playoff win,” Tuck said. “That was the only pressure I’ve felt. These boys were ready. They’d seen everything. Besides that second inning, they were spot on.”
Meiggs, Clayton throw Bulldogs past Tigers
on the road
The Roxboro Community School baseball team earned a trip to the third round of the state playoffs with a 4-2 victory at fifth-seeded Rosman Thursday.
The game was originally scheduled for Friday but was moved up a day because of rain in the forecast.
The Bulldogs traveled around 270 miles one way Thursday and will make another long trip Tuesday when they face Polk County. Game time is set for 6 p.m.
The Wolverines (18-4) survived a late charge from Pine Lake Prep to win 7-6 in their second-round game Thursday.
RCS got all it needed offensively in the second inning at Rosman, scoring all of its four runs.
Ian Coleman delivered a two-run single to right to highlight the inning.
The Tigers cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 4-2 in the fourth inning on a basehit by Tanner Huff, but were never closer.
RCS starting pitcher Grant Meiggs tossed six strong innings, surrendering just three hits and Michael Clayton closed it out with a perfect seventh.