Solid pitching, early runs guide Topsail baseball back to 3A state championship

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

 About 12 hours after suffering a one-run setback to send the 3A East Regional series into a decisive game three, the Topsail baseball team continued an unthinkable playoff run with a 2-1 victory over Corinth Holders in Hampstead early Saturday afternoon. The win clinches the program’s second state championship appearance in three years.

“This is a testament to the guys on this team, to their hard work and their resiliency,” said Topsail Coach Chris Blake. “People counted out us many times this year. We graduated nine seniors last year. All the stuff that went on off the field, we could have given up at any time.”

The Topsail baseball team celebrates its 3A East Regional Title. Photos by Joe Catenacci
The Topsail baseball team celebrates its 3A East Regional title. Photos by Joe Catenacci

The Pirates did not give up the ship after grabbing an early two-run advantage using the old baseball mantra of getting a runner on, moving him over and driving him in. It was the top three hitters in the order who came through, with Josh Madole, Bryce Cota and Sam Hall responsible for producing the runs necessary to give way to their ace in right-handed pitcher Payton Rice.

Coming off two quality swings where Madole just missed doing some damage at the plate the day prior, the Topsail lead-off hitter scored both runs in the contest after smacking a pair of extra base hits.

In the bottom of the first, Madole laced a double to the gap in left-center, while Bryce Cota followed with a perfectly executed bunt down the third base line to advance his teammate to third. The ensuing at-bat allowed Sam Hall to pick up his first RBI of the ball game on a sacrifice fly to left.

“While doing my hitting program after surgery, I really worked on bunting, 30-50 reps each day, knowing it would be a crucial part to games,” said Cota, who’s been sidelined from pitching this year as he recovers from shoulder surgery before heading to Campbell University this fall. “I knew when I was able to come back to the lineup that teams need someone who can do that.”

Payton Rice.
Payton Rice.

With the early edge, Rice settled in nicely, allowing one run on three hits, with three walks to extend his record on the mound to 11-1 this spring. The Louisburg College commit used a good mix of pitches to record eight strikeouts. Through five innings, he threw 64 pitches – 46 for strikes – facing just two hitters over the minimum.

Rice had three perfect 1-2-3 innings and worked around a one-out walk in the fourth as shortstop Shane Nolan made a good feed to second  baseman Chase Riker for the start of an inning ending in a 6-4-3 double play.

“It’s definitely been a rough ride, but the guys are sticking together,” Rice added. “I try to be a leader on the field and get some of the younger guys to follow. I’ve tried to be pretty steady all year and things are working out. We’re looking forward to next week.”

The Topsail lineup turned over in the third, which led to the second run for the Pirates as the exact scenario played out from their first at-bat. Madole doubled to the right-center gap, Cota put down the sacrifice bunt and Hall hit a deep fly ball to center for the 2-0 lead.

Corinth Holders closed the deficit in the sixth on an RBI single to right by Tate Procter, but as the potential tying run was waved around third, Cameron Kimrey hit his relay man, Josh Madole, who fired a perfect strike to catcher Colby Emmertz to cut off the run at the plate.

Madole and Aaron Beach finished with two hits apiece, while Kimrey and Shane Nolan combined to go 2-for-4 as the eight and nine hitters.

No. 17 Topsail improved to 21-10 overall heading into next week’s NCHSAA 3A Championship series. No. 19 Corinth Holders ended its run through the state tournament at 19-9 this season.

The Pirates now await the winner from the western part of North Carolina. No. 2 Marvin Ridge hosts No. 4 Ledford in game three of the 3A West Regional later on tonight.

The Pirates celebrate after scoring the games first run.
The Pirates celebrate after scoring the game’s first run.

The best-of-three state finals are set to get underway on Friday, June 3. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association will release the series location early next week. They’ll either play at Five-County Stadium in Zebulon, where Topsail won the 2014 state championship, or at Burlington Athletic Stadium in Burlington.

Box score                                      R  H  E

Corinth Holders  000 001 0            1   3   1

Topsail                101  000 X          2   6    2

WP: Payton Rice      LP: Connor Bass

LOB_ Corinth Holders, 3; Topsail, 3; 2B: Josh Madole (2); RBI: Sam Hall (2); Tate Proctor; SB: Aaron Beach, Tyler Barritt

Topsail                             IP   H R   ER   BB    SO

Payton Rice (11-1)            7    3   1     1       3       8