South Stokes beat East Surry the last time they played, almost one week ago.
The Sauras will get a fifth meeting with their Northwest Conference rival and the Western Region’s No. 1 seed.
Landon Parsons singled home the go-ahead run with two outs in the eighth inning, and Ricky Gonzalez pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning to give the Sauras a 3-2 win over East Wilkes in the second round of the Class 1A baseball playoffs, Thursday night at Mastin Field in Ronda.
Ninth-seeded South Stokes, the second-place finisher in the Northwest Conference and its tournament champion, won its fifth straight game, improved to 18-7 and advances to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
East Wilkes, the No. 8 seed and the No. 1 1A seed from the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference, had a first-round bye and lost for the fourth time in five games, ending its season at 10-13.
It was the third meeting this season between the former Northwest Conference rivals (2002-09). South Stokes swept the series. The games were decided by a total of four runs.
The Cardinals missed two chances to win the game in regulation, stranding the potential winning run at third base in both the sixth and seventh innings.
But sophomore righthander Tate Samples (2-4), who pitched four innings in relief of starter James Burcham, kept the Sauras in check for three innings. He retired the side in order in the seventh—and almost got out of trouble in the eighth.
With one out in the eighth, Ryan Tilley capped an eight-pitch at-bat with a single up the middle. Connor Young drew a walk, and the runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch.
Jesse Carrick popped out to second baseman Weston Johnson, and No. 9 hitter Matthew Montgomery struck out swinging on three pitches. But the final pitch to Montgomery was in the dirt and got away from catcher Caeden Howell, and Montgomery reached base without a throw to load the bases and keep the inning alive.
That brought up Parsons, who had scored the game’s first run and who had driven Samples—who started in left field—to the fence to catch a deep fly ball in the second inning.
Parsons worked the count to 2-2, then lined a pitch up the middle to give the Sauras their third lead of the game.
Samples struck out Shemar Dalton to end the inning.
“I was just looking to put anything in play and see if I could get something to happen,” said Parsons, a junior catcher. “I had two strikes on me and I was just looking at a contact swing. He gave me a curveball and I tried my best to hit it.”
Combined with their first-round win over Starmount, it’s the first time in six seasons that the Sauras had won a playoff game. “It feels great,” Parsons said. “South hasn’t seen this kind of success in a while. I’m looking forward to continuing it.”
Despite being no-hit for the first five innings by Sauras starter Adam McMillian, the Cardinals had a chance to tie or win the game in the eighth.
Ben Longbottom, who broke up the no-hitter with a double in the sixth and who hit .351 in his last 10 games, singled to left to start the inning against Gonzalez (6-0).
Howell, the No. 3 hitter, flied out to deep left field, and Burcham grounded out for the second out.
Austen Absher, who along with Howell and Burcham are the three players who have been a part of East Wilkes’ three-season run, turned a seven-pitch at-bat into a walk. Samples hit a chopper up the third base line for an infield hit to load the bases.
That brought up Johnson, who was hitting .286 in his previous nine games. But Gonzalez got him on a comebacker to end the game.
Gonzalez picked up the win in all three meetings with East Wilkes.
“What you saw tonight is what his forte is,” Shane Worth, the South Stokes coach, said of Gonzalez. “He can come in behind anybody, and you feel comfortable that he’s going to throw strikes. Nothing he throws is straight…. He’s not a guy who will blow it by you, but he’s tough to hit because everything moves.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Coach (Justin) Call and his staff…” Worth added. “It was a battle. We knew it was going to be a dogfight when we came in.”
For East Wilkes, the game could be defined with the word almost. Longbottom was stranded at third after his double in the sixth. In the seventh, No. 8 hitter Noah Parks snapped a 4-for-21 skid with his first extra-base hit of the season, a one-out double to left.
But McMillian struck out Trenton Rhodes and Gonzalez struck out Sean Sidden to force extra innings.
“They battled, and you could see it. I can live with mistakes when the effort is there,” said Call, completing the first season of his second stint as the East Wilkes coach. “The effort was there all night.
“It was a classic second-round playoff game,” he added. “It basically came down to they made one play and got one key hit that we just couldn’t get tonight.
“Our hits came with nobody (on base). And then we couldn’t capitalize.”
Both teams’ scoring came in nontraditional ways. Parsons was hit by Burcham’s first pitch of the game, and scored on Gonzalez’s fly ball that became a double play when Dalton, who had singled, was thrown out trying to go to third.
East Wilkes tied it in the bottom of the first when Sidden walked, stole second and scored on two wild pitches.
Gonzalez reached on the first of Sidden’s two errors with two outs in the third and scored on the second to give the Sauras a 2-1 lead.
The Cardinals tied it again on what was almost a triple play. With the bases loaded in the fifth, Rhodes hit a liner to Gonzalez, who started the game at shortstop. Gonzalez stepped on second for the second out, but threw wildly past first. Samples, who had walked to lead off the inning, scored to make it 2-2.
South Stokes lost three regular-season meetings to East Surry, two in Pilot Mountain. But the Sauras won 2-1 in the Northwest Conference tournament championship game in Walnut Cove behind McMillian, who won his fifth straight start.
“They’re a tough team. You’ve got be on top of your game at all times,” Worth said of East Surry. “It’s just like I said tonight—you’ve got to stay in the ballgame and give yourself a chance to win.”
The Cardinals’ three-season run is their best in two decades. The 2017 team won the MVAC tournament as a No. 8 seed, and their back-to-back top-three finishes in conference play the last two seasons are the first since 2000 and 2001.
East Wilkes also won 10 games for the second straight season. That hasn’t happened since a seven-year run from 1996-2002. And the Cardinals had home playoff games for three straight seasons for the first time since 1986-88, their first three years as a 1A school.
“These seniors… some of them were part of a tournament championship. They were part of a second-place team, a third-place team,” Call said. “We’ve got three guys (Absher, Burcham and Sidden) who are going to play baseball at the next level.
“I can’t say enough about the seniors, and they’re the starting point of what we’re hoping to build…” he added. “Hopefully this is the continuation of the last couple of years and it’s just going to continue to get better.
“We want to try and sustain it…. We want to keep passing the baton.”
Note: It was East Wilkes’ first extra-inning state playoff game since an 8-5 win at Mitchell in 2015.