Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
The third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs awaits the Fike High baseball team for the second straight year after handling the pesky task of defeating capable Big East Conference rival Rocky Mount for the third time this season.
The Golden Demons, the No. 3 seed among the 32 East Regional qualifiers, turned in a sparkling all-around performance in ending No. 19-seeded Rocky Mount’s season by an 8-2 count on the Fike High diamond Friday night.
In boosting its record to a sensational 21-1, Fike, which lost in the third round last season, earned the opportunity to oppose No. 6 Southern Lee at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Fike. Southern Lee ousted No. 16 Western Alamance, also on Friday.
The Golden Demons, Big East champions, tagged Rocky Mount ace junior right-hander Ben Sieracki for nine hits. They wound up with 11 hits, including a pair of home runs, a triple and two doubles. Junior Hunter Stokely and senior Zach Pittman each connected for his second homer of 2019. Stokely unloaded a two-run shot in the fourth and Pittman greeted reliever Sam Mills with his homer to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was a curve ball,” Stokely described the home-run pitch. “I just saw it good and knew I could get it. And I got it.”
Fike’s defense committed one harmless error and turned two double plays.
On the mound, junior right-handers Chad Bean and Stokely limited the Gryphons, No. 3 from the Big East, to four hits.
Limited to 75 pitches as the result of pitching 3 2/3 innings Tuesday night, Bean lasted 5 1/3 innings in notching his ninth win without a loss. He departed after 73 pitches.
The Demons of head coach Buck Edmundson eased the tension of facing an opponent for the third time — but in the playoffs — by pouncing upon Sieracki for three runs in the first inning. Senior catcher Garrett Browder, Stokely and senior right fielder Myles Cyrus each singled.
“We just knew we had to watch the ball all the way and hit the ball in good counts,” Stokely explained the approach to Sieracki’s pitches in facing him a second time.
Added Edmundson: “We wanted to hit the ball early in counts. “If we got two strikes, it was about an approach change. Just put it in play and put the pressure on their defense.
Of opposing the Gryphons (17-8) a third time, Stokely declared: “We were very excited to play them again,For me, this was the first time in two years that I got to play against them (knee injury last season and back problems during the regular season). I felt really good about it.”
Cyrus wound up 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Stokely was also 3 for 4 while Browder went 2 for 2. Junior second baseman Mason Lee doubled and drove in a run. Pitching in relief, the hard-throwing Stokely struck out three of five batters he retired.
“I knew it would come down to me or (senior left-hander) Tanner (Sullivan) when Chad got down to his pitch count,” Stokely said.
Defensively, Fike also penalized Rocky Mount for its aggressive base running.
Sieracki rapped an RBI single in the third but, on the play, right fielder Connor Powell also attempted to score. He was cut down at the plate on Fike left fielder Bryan Bunn’s strong throw. Then came two Rocky Mount miscues in the fifth. Before departing, Bean picked a runner off first base. To end the inning, Stokely registered a strike out and catcher Browder’s throw to second base nabbed the Gryphons’ base runner on a steal attempt and completed a double play.
Edmundson viewed little about which to complain.
“In the last two games, we came out really hot in hitting the ball,” he remarked. “We did an excellent job with two strikes; we didn’t strike out much (thrice).
Edmundson revealed that, during the open week before the playoffs, situational hitting drew emphasis. Some tendencies were altered and Lee was shifted from center field to second base and junior Colton Moats vice versa.
“It seems like all the moves we made are panning out,” Edmundson noted. “The boys are making me look good.”
Score by innings:
Rocky Mount 001 000 1 — 2
Fike 300 302 x — 8
WP-Chad Bean (9-0) 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO. LP-Ben Sieracki (6-4) 5 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Rocky Mount: Connor Powell 2-4, Ben Sieracki 1-2, RBI; Sam Mills 1-1, 2B, RBI; Fike: Garrett Browder 2-2, 2B, 2 R; Hunter Stokely 3-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R; Myles Cyrus 3-4, 3 RBI; Zach Pittman 1-2, HR; Mason Lee 1-3, 2B, RBI.