Resiliency has best described the Topsail baseball team all spring and the Pirates proved their might once again on Friday night in the opening game of the 2016 3A North Carolina High School Athletic Association Championship at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
Facing an early three-run deficit against the defending champion Marvin Ridge Mavericks, the Pirates responded in a big way to pull off a 6-3 victory to grab a one game lead in the best-of-three series.
“They put three runs up and it could have gone either way after that,” said Topsail Coach Chris Blake. “But the boys have fought through a lot this year and they showed that. They came right back out and it changed the tone of the game.”
The mild-mannered Payton Rice was a little fired up to get the start in the opener, which led to a rocky first inning as the big righty allowed three runs on five hits. A two-run double by Chandler Nikodemski and RBI single from Jake Kuchmaner catapulted the Mavericks to a 3-0 advantage after their first at-bat.
However, once Rice was able to battle out the frame, the senior settled in and posted zeros on the scoreboard to move to 12-1 this season. Facing the middle of the order in the third, Rice fanned two Maverick hitters, tossing a 1,2,3 inning. He retired the side in order again in the sixth, this time using his teammates in the field as Sam Hall, Josh Madole and Aaron Beach recorded putouts to get Topsail back in the dugout.
Rice allowed just one hit after the first, closing the solid effort with two walks and five strikeouts. He faced just four hitters over the minimum during his final six innings of work.
“Understanding the hitters after that first inning really helped me move through the game,” Rice said. “They definitely swung it early and roped a couple, but once I was able to locate my fastball and use some of my off-speed stuff early in the count, it helped me keep it away from the barrel of their bats.”
Coming into the game having issued just 18 walks this season, Marvin Ridge pitcher Jake Kuchmaner gave up five free passes in the outing. The Mavericks also committed five errors, which assisted Topsail in the comeback.
Sam Hall paced the black and gold as the junior third baseman went 3-for-4. Garrett Myrka reached base in all four plate appearances, with a 2 RBI single and two runs scored, while Colby Emmertz added a run scoring extra base hit.
Trailing 3-0, Chase Riker scored on a wild-pitch and Myrka cut the deficit to one when he scored on a throwing miscue to give Topsail life heading into the bottom of the second.
Three runs on four hits, including a 2 RBI base knock up the middle by Myrka and run scoring double down the line by Emmertz gave the Pirates a lead they would not surrender. A lead-off walk to Bryce Cota and single to left by Hall set the stage for the big third inning rally.
Madole also doubled to left-center and scored on a two-base throwing miscue for an insurance run in the sixth.
A pop-up storm passed through the area with Topsail three outs away from the win and play resumed after a two-hour delay. Rice headed back out to the mound to put the finishing touches on the impressive result as Beach ran down a liner in center, while the Louisburg College commit induced a foul out along the third base line and pop up to first for the 21st out of the ball game.
“I was going out there no matter what,” Rice added. “It was a challenge to keep loose after all that time, but I wanted to finish it.”
Winners in nine of their last 10, Topsail looks to clinch the program’s second title in three years on Saturday. Game two is scheduled for 11 a.m. in Burlington. If necessary, a decisive game three will be played at 5 p.m.
Box score R H E
Topsail 023 001 0 6 8 0
Marvin Ridge 300 000 0 3 6 5
LOB_ Ridge 4; Topsail 7; 2B Colby Emmertz, Josh Madole, Alex Leshock, Chandler Nikodemski; RBI Garrett Myrka (2), Colby Emmertz;
Topsail IP H R ER BB SO
Payton Rice 7 5 3 3 2 5
Marvin Ridge IP H R ER BB SO
Jake Kuchmaner 6.2 8 6 3 5 4
3A baseball championship: game 1, Topsail 5, Marvin Ride 3 ; game 2, at 11 a.m. ; game 3, at 5p.m. * if necessary