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CHAPEL HILL — The Fike High baseball team had done a pretty job in close games this season, winning nine out of 10 games the Golden Demons played that were decided by three or fewer runs.
But the Demons ran into the king of one-run games in Chapel Hill in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs Tuesday. The Tigers, the Big Eight Conference champions and No. 4 seed out of 32 teams in the East Region, scored three runs early and held off No. 5 Fike 3-2 for their ninth victory without a loss in one-run outcomes.
“This time of year all the teams are going to be good,” said Buck Edmundson, whose team’s 21-5 final record was the best in his five seasons as Fike head coach. “Anytime you coach, you don’t want to see your guys hurt. But it didn’t roll our way.”
The Big East Conference-champion Demons threatened in the top of the seventh against Tigers closer Tyler Hansen, who took over when Chapel Hill senior right-hander Jake Smith reached his pitch count. Senior Jaelyn Melton opened the inning by reaching first when his grounder went between the legs of the Tigers second baseman. After Tanner Sullivan failed to get down a sacrifice bunt, he singled to give Fike runners on first and second with no outs.
The following hitter, Jackson Terry, did get his bunt down, moving Fike’s runners to second and third. Edmundson said he wanted to safety squeeze with No. 9 hitter Bryan Bunn up, but Bunn got two strikes and had to swing. Hansen managed to strike out Bunn before getting Justice Lynn to hit a grounder to Chapel Hill third baseman Ryan Lonegan, who tagged out the Fike base runner for the final out.
The Tigers take a 24-3 mark into their fourth-round battle with top-seeded New Hanover.
Fike got into trouble early when a one-out error allowed Chapel Hill’s Jack Olcott to reach base in the second inning.
Edmundson noted that Chapel Hill’s infield played “hard and fast” and Fike tried to prepare for it in practice Monday but didn’t have a chance to take batting practice on the Tigers field prior to Tuesday’s game.
Demons senior starter Trevor Mills then issued a two-out walk before Hansen tripled in both runners, the ball barely eluding the glove of diving Fike right fielder Myles Cyrus before skipping down the line.
“Myles made a helluva effort in right field and almost caught the ball off the ground with two outs,” Edmundson said.
After another base on balls, Anthony Castellano singled in Hansen for a 3-0 lead, spelling the end of Mills’ mound duty.
“He didn’t have his best stuff. I think he was good enough,” Edmundson said of Mills, who didn’t give up an earned run.
Sophomore Chad Bean walked the first batter he faced before getting an inning-ending pop-up. Bean was solid the rest of the way, giving up five hits over the next four innings but managing to wiggle out of trouble each time. Bean was helped by double plays from his defense in the fourth and sixth innings and managed to pitch around back-to-back one-out singles by Drew Govert and Adam Guskiewicz in the fifth.
“After the second inning we played great,” Edmundson said. “Zach Pittman, Trevor Mills, they made plays. It was great effort. I can’t fault anybody’s effort. We just came up short.”
Fike finally got to Smith, who has signed with UNC Wilmington, in the top of the fourth. “He threw the ball every bit of 90 (miles per hour),” Edmundson said. “Facing that caliber of pitcher, I thought we battled. We scrapped, fought and kept going.”
Mills drew a one-out walk and trotted home on Melton’s two-out triple. Sullivan then singled in Melton. But Smith, who improved to 9-1, retired the next seven batters he faced before turning the ball over to Hansen, who picked up his sixth save.
Hansen led the Tigers at the plate, going 3 for 4 while Sullivan was 2 for 3 for Fike.
It was the final game for seniors Melton, Lynn, Terry and Mills. Edmundson saluted Lynn for an outstanding spring.
“I don’t know that anybody’s going to match his year,” the Fike coach said. “For the season he batted a shade under .550. That’s the best season that I can remember since Charlie Vaughan’s junior year (in 2014, Edmundson’s first as Fike head coach).”
Edmundson praised his team for going unbeaten in Big East regular-season play and winning 21 games, but mostly for the Demons’ hard work, dedication and commitment to one another.
“I love them and they’ve done such a good job and they fought right to the end,” he said.
Score by innings:
WP-Jake Smith (9-1) 6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO. LP-Trevor Mills (8-2) 1 2/3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO. S- Tyler Hanson (6) 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Fike: Jaelynn Melton 1-2, 3B, RBI, R; Tanner Sullivan 2-3, RBI. Chapel Hill: Tyler Hansen 3-4, 3B, 2 RBIs, R; Anthony Castellano 1-2, RBI.