Bulldogs run past Person, will meet again today in tourney final

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OXFORD — After seven tough, competitive innings of baseball, Roxboro Community School left the Granville Athletic Park with a 4-0 victory against in-county rival Person.

And they’re going to do it all over again tonight, but this time there’s a trophy on the line.

The teams will face off in the championship game of the Oxford Spring Break Tournament tonight at 6 p.m. at the GAP.

The Bulldogs (9-2) opened the tournament with an 11-4 win against Kerr-Vance Academy and earned a berth in today’s final by being the only team among the six in the field to win both games Thursday.

Person (4-13) punched its ticket to the finals by giving up the fewest number of runs combined among the teams that split their two games Thursday. Jedd Whitfield tossed a three-hit, complete-game shutout in the Rockets’ 4-0 victory against host Oxford Prep earlier in the afternoon.

The tournament was originally scheduled to be a three-day affair, but heavy storms in the forecast for Friday forced each team to play twice Thursday.

RCS managed to get the wins despite two of its front-line pitchers, Colby Rountree and Bryson Pleasant, out of the rotation because of lingering arm injury and being off the field for nearly three weeks because of poor weather and field conditions. According to Bulldogs’ coach Pete Tuck, when his 19-man team was able to get time on the field, they were able to see a good amount of live pitching and scrimmage each other.

“I was worried to death what we were going to do,” Tuck said. “To come out there and beat a heck of a Kerr-Vance Academy team with William Leonard pitching great and beat Person was something. I know I’ve said this earlier in the year, but Person is a good baseball team that’s just in a heck of a conference. They’re young and have some really good ball players. To me, that’s a big win, even if you take the Person-RCS rivalry away, that’s a team that can help prepare us for down the road.”

It took a tough, clutch performance from junior Michael Clayton to hold off Person.

Clayton, less than a week removed from surviving a scary accident that totaled his truck and battling cramps throughout the game, scored the eventual game-winning run and picked up the win on the mound.

With the game tied 3-3, Clayton walked to lead off the seventh inning and stole second one batter later. Grant Meiggs bunted Clayton over to third, ahead of third-place hitter Ian Coleman.

Coleman hit a hard chopper to third against a drawn-in infield that Person’s Austin C. Oakley gobbled up and glanced at Clayton before throwing across the diamond to first. Clayton sprinted for the plate the instant the ball left Oakley’s hand at third and dove in head first just ahead of the throw from first to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 lead.

“I knew he was going,” Tuck said of Clayton. “All Ian had to do was put the ball in play. With my top three, if that ball is hit anywhere, we’re going. The good thing about that is that they’d have to throw across the diamond and back, and (first baseman Austin T. Oakley) is a left-hander, so he has to turn around to make that throw. I wish I could have said that I told (Clayton) that he’d have to do that to make that long throw, but that was all Michael Clayton. He’s got the IQ for that, and it helps that he’s able to run like a deer.”

Clayton capped off the win on the mound, by striking out the side in the seventh. He came in after starter Grant Meiggs tossed five innings and pitched two perfect innings of relief to get the win, striking out all six batters he faced.

“(Clayton) loves it,” Tuck said. “Every player should want to be in that moment and he excels. He’s helping us out because we’re without two big arms. Michael has stepped up and has done a heck of a job.”

The bats got going early for both teams as they put up runs in the first inning.

RCS scored in the top of the first on a single up the middle by Coleman that scored Clayton from third.

Person answered with two runs in its first swings. The first three Rockets reached base to start the game and leadoff hitter Cayden Goodwin tied the game 1-1 when he scored on a wild pitch. Goodwin led off the game with a single to right.

Jacob Vaughn gave the Rockets an early lead with an RBI groundout to second that plated Austin C. Oakley.

The Bulldogs took advantage of a pair of Person errors and a balk to tie the game in the third and returned the favor in the fourth when the Rockets plated a run on a two-out infield miscue to take a 3-2 lead.

RCS used its running game in the fifth inning to tie the game again. Meiggs hammered a two-out double to left and tried to steal third a couple of pitches later. The throw to third bounced off of Meiggs’ wrist and got away from Austin C. Oakley at third, allowing the run to score easily.

For the game, RCS had five stolen bases that proved huge in the win.

“We are going to try to wreak as much havoc on the bases as possible,” Tuck said. “My top three, I don’t have to tell them anything. We work a lot on our base running, not just stealing, but we’re working on our base running constantly. Everything’s a double for us. It’s one of the few years that we’ve had that many boys who can run that fast and we’re going to take full advantage.”

Justin Carden started for Person and gave up just two earned runs on five hits, while striking out five.

Carden may not have factored into the decision, but his performance, coupled with Jedd Whitfield’s shutout of Oxford Prep in the early game Thursday, helped the Rockets get a rematch with RCS with the tournament title on the line.

“We’ve got some talent,” Person coach Kyle Boyette said. “We’ve had sophomores and freshmen throw the majority of our innings and they’re battling. The last three games, we’ve given up four runs and that’s a testament to how hard they’re working. I think at the plate, we’re just not having very good approaches, but our pitchers are doing what they need to do and putting us in position to win.”

The Rockets managed just four hits, two hits each by Goodwin and Austin C. Oakley.

Colemen had a pair of hits and drove in two runs, while Trey Hodgin, Jeremy Tuck and Pleasant each had its.

Both teams will be busy in the next few weeks to close the regular season.

Person will face McMichael twice next week, Tuesday at home and Friday on the road. RCS will host Franklin Academy Tuesday before Wednesday’s showdown with rival Voyager Academy Wednesday at the Durham Athletic Park. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.

RCS took advantage of 14 walks to outlast Kerr-Vance Academy 11-1 in Thursday’s first game of the Oxford Spring Break Tournament.

The Bulldogs managed just five hits for the game, but posted runs in each inning of the game.

Leonard picked up the win after pitching six innings, giving up three earned runs on three hits with four strikeouts.

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