PILOT MOUNTAIN — It took about 1,100 miles and three trips to the mountains, but the Roxboro Community School baseball team has found its way home.
The Bulldogs got on top early and punched their ticket to the 1A West regional finals with a 4-1 victory at top-seed East Surry Friday in Pilot Mountain.
East Surry, the champions of the Northwest 1A/2A, finished the season 23-3, while the best season in the young history of RCS baseball continues on.
The 12th seeded Bulldogs (19-4) are making their first-ever trip to the regional finals and began play in the best-of-three series Tuesday at 10-seed Uwharrie Charter. Game one results are unavailable at press time.
Game two will be played 7 p.m. Thursday at Optimist Park, with the deciding third game, if necessary scheduled for Saturday.
RCS opened up the playoffs with a home win against Mitchell, but has pulled off three consecutive road victories, at Rosman, Polk County and East Surry to earn a place in the regionals.
“They’re on a mission. They show up everyday on a mission,” RCS coach Pete Tuck said. “The coaches, we show up everyday and have a plan in place, but these boys execute it at practice and on the field. I told them, ‘the best part about it is I get to see y’all at Optimist Park Monday at 4 o’clock (for practice)’. We get to do it some more.”
The Bulldogs had to work their way through the second Division 1 pitching recruit of the playoffs to get to regionals.
East Surry pitcher Seth Keener was dominant at times, but RCS was able to get to him early.
Michael Clayton was hit by a pitch to lead off the game, advanced to second base and scored when Ian Coleman ripped the second pitch he saw in his at-bat up the middle for an RBI single.
Coleman promptly stole second and third and scored when Wyatt Sharer looped an 0-2 fastball into shallow right field.
The Bulldogs brought eight batters to the plate in the first inning, scored two runs and forced Keener, a Wake Forest recruit to throw 30 pitches.
Sharer came through again in the third inning with another run-scoring single on an 0-2 count. Coleman walked to lead off the third and again stole second and third before Sharer drove him in.
“That was our gameplan,” Tuck said. “We knew we were going to run. I’ve got great baserunners and if we get them on, we’re going and putting pressure on people.”
Keener took the loss after giving up five hits, four walks and two hit batsmen before reaching the limit of 105 pitches with one out in the seventh inning. The junior struck out 13, but gave up all four runs. The last batter he faced, second-place hitter Grant Meiggs, had an RBI basehit up the middle to stretch the lead to 4-1.
Meiggs did work on the mound, as well.
The sophomore left-hander lasted into the sixth inning, giving up just one unearned run on four hits, while striking out five. Meiggs worked his way out of jams all night, including picking a runner off at first after allowing a leadoff walk in the second inning. Four of Meiggs’ strikeouts were with runners on base.
“He’s freaking awesome,” Tuck said of Meiggs. “He struggled a little getting ahead (in counts). I know we’re the Bulldogs, but he reminded me Orel Hershiser (nicknamed the Bulldog), just bulldogging on the mound. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept battling and got the job done.”
Meiggs exited the game after the first two batters got on bases to start the sixth inning.
Third-place hitter Nick Shoffner reached base when RCS’s L.J. Lunsford couldn’t handle his hard chopper to third. Jefferson Boaz followed with a single to left, prompting Tuck to bring in Clayton to get the two-inning save.
The junior flamethrowing did exactly what he’s done for the past few weeks — sit opposing batters down.
Clayton struck out all three batters he faced in the sixth, the only blemish coming when Cardinals’ pinch-runner Kyler Jessup scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 3-1 going into the seventh.
After Meiggs’ single in the top of the seventh gave the Bulldogs added insurance, Clayton shut down the Cardinals in the bottom half, striking out the first two batters he faced and easily handling a comebacker to cap off the win.