FCS baseball advances to state championship series
By PATRICK MASON
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
A Wilmington Coastal Christian player jogged off the field after an eventful third inning and had a message for anyone within earshot.
“We can’t make mistakes,” he said, “because they aren’t going to make any over there.”
The player was talking about Faith Christian, the Centurions’ opponent on Tuesday, and he was right. The Patriots played a clean game free of errors, as the team full of sure-handed fielders with a deep pitching staff and a contact-driven lineup advanced to its second consecutive NCISAA 2-A state championship series with a 5-0 win on Tuesday.
“I’m excited for these kids, man,” FCS coach Greg Clifton said. “They worked hard and a lot of people doubted them this year. I know they're not happy just going back.”
Second-seeded Faith Christian will face No. 5 Greensboro Caldwell Academy in the best-of-three series beginning at 6 p.m. at Gaston Day School in Gastonia on Friday. The second game will start at noon on Saturday, with a possible third game to follow.
Caldwell beat No. 1 Rocky Mount Academy, 8-5, in the other semifinal to deny an all-Rocky Mount championship series.
The Patriots (19-7) rode another strong pitching performance, this time from right-hander Zach Warrick. The junior allowed just one hit over 5 ⅔ innings, and struck out five with no walks. The lone hit was a two-out single in the fourth.
“I was just trusting my stuff and trusting the guys behind me,” Warrick said. “I’m not a big strikeout guy, and the guys had to make a lot of plays behind me and they did that. I just try to pound the zone with the curveball and the fastball.”
It was an important outing for the Patriots, as Warrick was efficient enough to work deep into the game while keeping his pitch count reasonable. He finished with 69 pitches, which means he needs to rest three calendar days before he is eligible to pitch again. If Warrick had thrown 76 pitches or more, he would have needed four full days of rest.
That means that FCS will have a full stable of arms for the championship series, a stretch of games last season the team had to navigate without its top arm.
Garrett Pannell came on to grab the final out of the sixth, which was a long flyout to the wall in center. Sam Mills recorded the final three outs in the seventh. All three pitchers combined to face 22 batters, just one over the minimum.
“Throwing strikes,” Clifton said. “Getting ahead and throwing strikes was huge.”
Coastal Christian managed two singles, both from Jackson Russell. The third batter in the order roped his second single of the game off Mills in the seventh, but was thrown out by Edwards while trying to steal third.
“We work very hard on our fielding,” Edwards said. “That’s one of the things that coach hounds us on, to work hard and do our job, get in and get up to the box. This team is a lot better than people projected us to be.”
FCS scored a run in third to break a scoreless tie, then added three more runs in the fourth. A solo home run to right field from Alex Crosby in the sixth capped the scoring. It was the first homer of the year for Crosby, who finished 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk.
Crosby, a left-hander who started Saturday’s quarterfinal win, will likely get the start on the mound on Friday.