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Only the Fike High varsity baseball team, because of necessary scheduling adjustments, is playing four games in the fifth annual Golden Leaf Invitational that swung into action Saturday with 11 games.
And tournament founder Jon Smith — also the head baseball coach and athletic director at Hunt High — reports that, if the Golden Demons win all four games, they will be delared champions in the 21-team field.
Fike is halfway to an unprecedented 4-0 after thumping Rocky Mount Academy 13-1 in five innings Saturday morning and then sputtering past Parrott Academy of Kinston, 6-2, in the final Saturday evening game in Fleming Stadium.
However, head coach Buck Edmundson is emphasizing “one game at a time” and Fike’s remaining two foes are 2-A power South Granville at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Fleming and 2017 Golden Leaf champion Cardinal Gibbons at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Fleming finale.
The Demons (11-2) entered the three-day event not as deep in pitching as they hoped with senior right-hander Jaelynn Melton unavailable for mound duties because of a shoulder injury.
However, sophomore Connor Jinks and freshman Brian Bunn combined to shackle Rocky Mount Academy on two hits and juniors Tanner Sullivan and Zach Pittman hurled effectively against Parrott. RMA and Parrott are each North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 2-A members.
“Younger guys stepped up and threw strikes,” Edmundson commended. “Defensively, we made the plays we needed to make. I’m telling you Parrott can hit! I think they are a pretty good team.”
Edmundson had pondered limiting his moundsmen to 45 pitches or less against Parrott, but Sullivan worked six innings, spacing nine hits and three walks while striking out five.
“(Assistant) coach (Robert) Stokely told me: ‘You give us four (innings) and, if you give us more than four, it’s a plus,” Sullivan noted. “I kept dealing and 45 pitches turned into 105. I feel good. This is a confidence-builder for me for next year.”
Sullivan was lifted after yielding back-to-back doubles to Patriots designated hitter Graham Barefoot and left fielder Conner Bright to open the top half of the last inning.
The Fike left-hander admitted he was tiring, adding: “I wasn’t finding the strike zone.”
Pittman relieved and issued a run-scoring walk before squelching Parrott’s hopes with a shallow outfield fly and consecutive strikeouts.
Parrott (9-4) head coach Robert Kravitz admitted he was frustrated and acknowledged was saving his top pitchers for the tournament game Tuesday against Rocky Mount Academy because of playoff implications.
“We welcome the challenge of playing a public-school team and we wanted to be here,” he said. “What bothers me most is that we made five errors. Fike is a really good team and you can’t make that many mistakes against a team like Fike and expect to win the game.”
The Demons nicked losing Parrott pitcher Brandon Zoltek for two runs in each of the first two innings. Senior first baseman Trevor Mills and Pittman each singled in the first and sophomore left fielder Mason Lee and Mills each delivered RBI singles in the second. Junior Myles Cyrus’ grounder produced the final run in the sixth.
Earlier in the day on their Gilbert Ferrell Field diamond, the Demons dealt RMA its first loss after six wins, erupting for seven runs in the first, two in the second and four in the third.
Center fielder Justice Lynn drove in four runs for Fike, while Mills, Melton and Sullivan each plated a pair. The Demons left the bases loaded in four of the last five innings.
“That is frustrating,” Edmundson assured. “At worst, you’ve got to get one run each inning.”
Score by innings:
RMA 001 00 — 1
Fike 724 0x — 13
WP-Connor Jinks 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 1 SO. LP-Will Stewart.
LEADING HITTERS — Rocky Mount Academy: Will Stewart 2-2, RBI; Fike: Trevor Mills 1-1, 2 RBI; Zach Pittman 1-2, Garrett Browder 2-3, 3 R, 2 RBI; Jaelynn Melton 1-2, 3 R; Justice Lynn 2-3, 4 RBI; Myles Cyrus 1-2, 2 RBI; Tanner Sullivan 2-3.
Score by innings:
Parrott Academy 100 000 1 — 2
Fike 220 101 x — 6
WP-Tanner Sullivan (1-0) 6 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO. LP-Brandon Zoltek 3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Parrott Academy: Graham Barefoot 2-3, 2 2B, 2 R; Trey McLawhorn, 2-3, 2 RBI; Christian Jones 2-4; Fike: Trevor Mills 2-4, RBI; Mason Lee 1-3, RBI; Zach Pittman 1-3, Jaelynn Melton 1-4, 2 RBI; Justice Lynn 1-3, Tanner Sullivan 1-2.