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With all the scenarios defined, the Fike High varsity baseball team, playing in the final game of the sixth annual Golden Leaf Invitational in Fleming Stadium on Tuesday night, realized it only needed to win to seize its second championship and its first since 2015.
The Golden Demons, after a shaky start, responded with a 12-2 rout of 2-A South Granville in five innings.
Fike, the 3-A Big East Conference champ, was joined by 1-A Rosewood and Rocky Mount Faith Christian of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 2-A ranks as teams finishing with 3-0 records among the 17 entrants.
Decisive for Fike was the criteria of opponents’ records in the three-day affair. The Demons’ foes posted a 3-5 record, while Rosewood and Faith Christian opponents managed two wins each.
Ranked No. 5 among the state’s 3-A teams by MaxPreps, the Demons of head coach Buck Edmundson vaulted to 19-1 in concluding the regular season.
Senior Fike catcher Garrett Browder assured knowing his team did not have to be concerned with runs allowed or other factors relieved a lot of pressure.
“Just play hard, play our game and try to win,” Browder explained Fike’s mission against the Vikings, winless in three tournament outings and 8-12 overall.
Fike conquered Cardinal Gibbons 3-2 in 10 innings and fought past Jamestown Ragsdale 5-3 before facing South Granville. The game’s starting time was moved back 2 1/2 hours because of South Granville’s transportation problems. Thus, the Demons wound up playing in the final game.
“We had a rough first inning,” reviewed Edmundson. “But we settled in, started hitting the ball, stayed the course, stayed with it and played baseball. I am proud of the guys.”
Fike, leading 8-2, ended the game with four runs in the bottom of the fifth and walked off when junior designated hitter Chad Bean was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in junior shortstop Hunter Stokely with the run that staked the Demons to the necessary 10-run lead to enforce the mercy rule.
Stokely was voted the invitational’s most valuable player, batting 5 for 9 in the three games.
The infielder-pitcher scored all three runs in Fike’s victory against Cardinal Gibbons and, in the same game, turned in an overpowering relief pitching performance.
Leading to the game-ending hit batsman was junior Colton Moats’ single, a walk, Browder’s three-run home run, Stokely’s triple, and a walk to senior right fielder Myles Cyrus,
Browder, who also doubled, belted his second homer, a shot over the left-field fence.
“I got a fastball,” Browder described. “I was ahead in the count and I watched two breaking balls. It was still a plus count (two balls, one strike) and I got a fastball I could drive.”
Zach Pittman, a senior right-hander, labored the five innings to notch his fourth win against one loss. Throwing over 90 pitches, Pittman scattered four hits and three walks while striking out five. He was sharp his last two innings.
Browder explained Pittman, who usually plays shortstop, is not normally a starting pitcher, but was needed in that role — and responded. The senior gave up two unearned runs in the first and, aided by sloppy Vikings base running, squirmed out of jams in the second and third innings.
“Zach did a good job of competing — he always does,” Browder praised. “The way he persevered meant a lot to the team.”
Fike pulled even at 2-2 as Browder led off with a double and scored in the bottom of the first. In the second, Moats singled, took second on a wild pitch and came home on Stokely’s single.
In the third, the Demons heeded Browder’s request to “give Zach a cushion.”
The Demons surged out front for keeps at 5-2. Cyrus and junior center fielder Mason Lee each doubled. Lee drove in two runs and Bunn singled in another.
“Zach focused in,” Browder contended. “We got him some runs and it allowed him to get comfortable. He settled in.”
Fike chased Vikings starter Drew Shamer after three innings and tagged reliever Justice Norton for three runs in the fourth — when Bean looped a two-run single to the opposite field.
Edmundson indicated tracking all the criteria possibilities and keeping his players focused were huge challenges.
“We had to control what we could control and take it one game at the time,” he declared. “Tonight, we just wanted to finish the game.”
Browder insisted the modestly celebrated championship was “big for us,”
“We were really excited to do it for Coach Edmundson,” he emphasized. “He worked so hard to get this set up. To be able to win something that we worked so hard for means so much to us — and for him as well.”
Score by innings:
South Granville 200 00 — 2
Fike 113 34 — 12
WP-Zach Pittman (4-1) 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO. LP-Drew Shamus 3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — South Granville: Josh Edwards 1-2, Justin Bullock 1-2, Bailey Watkins 1-2, Joe Calus 1-3; Fike: Garrett Browder 2-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI; Zach Pittman 2-3, Chad Bean 1-1, 3 RBI; Mason Lee 1-3, 2 RBI, 2B; Colton Moats 2-3, Bryan Bunn 1-2.