RMA baseball rallies to walk-off win


Sports Writer

Saturday, March 10, 2018

It was a daunting task, and Rocky Mount Academy had the bottom of the order coming to the plate to spearhead the climb.

Trailing by five runs in the bottom of the seventh against Harrells Christian Academy, the Eagles needed to rally. The bottom of the order came through, and the top added a pair of timely hits to give the Eagles an 8-7 victory in walkoff fashion at the Patriot Invite at Faith Christian.

“We’re constantly hunting our pitch,” Eagles coach Cameron Ramsey said. “But while doing that we tried to really preach not chasing pitches and to stay on yours. Especially when a guy is having some control issues, we had to let it come to us.”

Crusaders relief pitcher Carson Todd got a looking strikeout to open the seventh, but then had trouble finding the plate, clearing a lane for the Eagles to make their move. Todd issued three consecutive walks before hitting pinch-hitter Spencer Gardner with a pitch to plate the first run of the inning to prompt a pitching change.

The Eagles didn’t bite on close pitches and drew another bases-loaded walk. Woodall Rose ripped an RBI single, then a pass ball allowed Gardner to score to tie the score at 7-7, and loaded the bases for Thomas Griffin.

Seven batters reached base before Griffin, erasing the deficit in the process. And with a chance to win the game, the senior had one thing on his mind.

“I acted like it was the beginning of the game,” Griffin said. “I was just trying to look for my pitch to hit.”

Griffin got it, and he hit a roller to the right side of the infield that forced the second baseman to range to his left, which put him in no position to make a throw to the plate as Ethan Davis raced home to score the winning run.

Griffin was mobbed by teammates, and the Eagles completed a comeback to stay perfect through the first two games of the season.

“You see the major leaguers hit home runs for walk offs, and I wasn’t able to do that,” Griffin said. “But to walk off the way we did was pretty special, and in my senior year I got to do something I’ve never done before.”

RMA (2-0) couldn’t have had a better player at the plate in that situation. Griffin had three hits before his final at-bat, including three off the Crusaders’ tough starter Sam Ellis. The hard-throwing left-hander struck out six and allowed a pair of runs, largely keeping the Eagles bats at bay.

But Griffin had an approach in mind and stuck with it. He made sure to swing at fastballs, and implored himself not to chase the breaking stuff. It worked, as he finished with four hits, spraying two into left field, and two more to the right side.

“I was just sitting fastball all game, reacting to that and hitting that,” Griffin said. “He was a good pitcher, but if I sat fastball I knew I could hit it.”

HCA (1-3) rode Ellis’ strong outing to build a lead. The Crusaders led from the first inning when Cody Butler hit a two-run home run to left-center just four pitches into the game. FCS starter Colin Legaj settled in to secure the next three outs, then worked a perfect 1-2-3 second inning.

Legaj ran into some trouble in the third, but was bailed out by a terrific play in center field by Davis. It looked as if Butler hit his second homer of the game with two runners on in the third, but Davis made a leaping catch and crashed into the wall in left-center to rob Butler of extra bases.

“I was playing a little bit deeper, shading toward left,” Davis said. “I saw him hit it and knew it wasn’t going to be as far as his previous hit. I got a good jump and felt good about my read. It was tough to tell if it was going to stay in, but I had to jump for it, I hit the fence and came up with it.”

RMA lived by its strong defense on its way to the NCISAA 2-A state semifinal last season. And despite losing several starters to graduation, as well as star shortstop Isaiah Thomas to a knee injury he sustained during the football season, the Eagles showed they are still capable having its defense keep themselves in games.

Sophomore shortstop Griffin Wingfield, who is starting in place of Thomas, made a couple of putouts, including one that included style points. Griffin ranged to his right into the hole, and showed off his strong arm to make the final out of the sixth.

“It’s always been one of our strengths,” Davis said of his team’s defense. “We lost a couple infielders, but we filled those spots pretty good this year. We can still make all the plays.”

Faith Christian 7

Westchester Country Day 5

The two teams met for the first time since last season’s exciting NCISAA 2-Astate semifinal game that determined a state championship series berth. The Patriots won by a run, then went on to win a state title.

FCS took down the Wildcats again, this time on Saturday at its own Patriot Invite to improve to 4-0 on the season.

Patriots first baseman Chase Johnson singled three times and scored three runs, while shortstop Garrett Pannell smacked an RBI double in the first inning.

FCS trailed by one run heading into the seventh, and used a one-out walk, followed by three consecutive singles to scratch out three runs to take a 7-5 lead. Sam Mills got the final three outs of the seventh to preserve the win.