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Trio of playoff teams remain

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J.H. Rose's Gregory Hardison jogs past second after a home run against Heritage on May 16, 2017.

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Friday, May 19, 2017

Three is the magic number when it comes to the state baseball and softball playoffs in Pitt County.

A trio of county public schools remain in the postseason — one in baseball, two in softball — and will compete in the fourth round tonight. With three rounds down, those teams stand at the proverbial halfway mark of the playoffs, with three more rounds standing between them and hoisting a championship trophy.

Here is a look at the remaining playoff teams and their fourth-round matchups.

BASEBALL

No. 4 Holly Springs at No. 1 J.H. Rose, 6 p.m.: For J.H. Rose to reach the 4-A East Regional semifinals, the Rampants’ high-powered offense is going to have to find a way to produce against one of the stingiest teams it has faced all season.

Holly Springs (22-5) enters allowing an average of just 1.92 runs per game and has shut out two of its three playoff opponents. The Golden Hawks have allowed four or fewer runs in all but two games this season.

“We know we’re going to really have a challenge with their pitching and their defense,” JHR coach Ronald Vincent said. “We’re going to have to hit the ball and score some runs to win this game. We’re going to have to take advantage of what we can do, and if we can get a break, we’re going to have to make them really work for it.”

Top-seeded Rose (23-3) has been no slouch defensively, allowing an average of 2.96 runs per contest. The Rampants are in the fourth round for the third time in the last four seasons thanks in large part to a lineup that averages 9.5 hits and 7.5 runs per game, but they roll into tonight’s clash on the strength of an uptick in pitching production.

Starter Hunter Christopher has shouldered most of the load as JHR’s No. 1 guy this year, but he is ineligible to pitch tonight because of mandatory rest stemming from his pitch count Tuesday against Heritage. Vincent, though, said he is confident because of the strong late-season performances from relievers Chandler Hallow and Michael Crumpler.

“Chandler has been competing out there, and Crumpler looks like he’s throwing again like he did earlier in the year,” he said. “Those two guys are going to have to do it. They’re going to have to come through and pitch for us. If we throw strikes and take a chance with our defense, we’ve got a chance.”

SOFTBALL

No. 3 South Central at No. 1 Cape Fear, 7 p.m.: South Central has a shot at the 4-A East Regional semifinals, as well as a bit of redemption from a season ago, in tonight’s matchup at top seed Cape Fear.

The third-seeded Falcons traveled to eventual East champion Cape Fear last season in the second round and gave the Colts all they could handle in a narrow 2-0 defeat. That has coach Cotton Nicholson’s club showing no fear seeing the Colts the second time around. 

“We lost to them last year 2-0 and both of their runs were unearned, so we think we can compete with them,” Nicholson said. “They don’t scare us.”

SC (23-2) got a bit of a scare put in it Tuesday when third-round opponent Holly Springs put on a three-run rally in the top of the seventh to tie that contest. The Falcons were forced to regroup and notched a walk-off win in the bottom of the frame to reach the regional semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

Despite a less-than-stellar close Tuesday, Nicholson said his team is still confident traveling to take on a Cape Fear team that is 25-0 and ranked No. 25 nationally by MaxPreps. 

“It’s always good when you don’t play as well as you can play and you come out with the win,” he said. “I’m not concerned. I think we’ve got enough veterans to realize that we’ve got to step it up in the next couple of games.”

No. 10 D.H. Conley at No 4 Southern Alamance, 7 p.m.: In the other 4-A East semifinal, D.H. Conley is in the fourth round for the third straight year.

This year, though, the Vikings (23-3) are a double-digit seed and are playing their second straight road game against a higher seed. They still might be the same team that won a 4-A title two years ago and lost in the East finals last year, but coach Wayne Deans said the inconsistency that has plagued his team has framed it squarely as an underdog at this point in the year.

“There’s really no pressure on us,” Deans said. “Out of 32 teams on the Eastern side, we’re No. 10. Everyone now is above us.”

DHC eked past No. 2 Heritage on Tuesday with a 9-7 victory in nine innings. Conley needed two runs in the top of the seventh to force extras, a far cry from last season when the Vikings won their first three playoff games by a combined score of 16-1.

This season, DHC has wins of 3-2 and 9-7 sandwiched around a 10-0 second-round victory, close calls Deans said he hopes has helped prepare his team for what it could face in Southern Alamance (25-2).

“They’re probably in a lot of ways like Heritage,” he said. “They’re going to hit the ball well, they’re going to play solid defense and from what I understand, they have a really good pitcher. That’s sort of what Heritage showed (Tuesday), so I expect it to be hopefully a close ball game.”

Oakwood softball: The Oakwood School’s softball team also remains in the hunt for a state championship and will host the Final Four of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA) 1-A tournament today and Saturday.

The defending state champion Eagles are the No. 3 seed and will play No. 2 Lawrence Academy at noon today, after top seed Halifax County and No. 4 Ridgecroft play at 10 a.m. The winners of those two games go into the winners bracket of the double-elimination tournament and play at 4 p.m. today for a spot in the championship game.

The state title will be decided at noon Saturday, with a second game if necessary to be played at 2 p.m.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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