MORAVIAN FALLS – East Surry pulled away from North Surry on Thursday to claim the Foothills 2A Conference Tournament Championship.
The game was tightly contested until the No. 1-seeded Cards nearly doubled their hits and runs in an explosive sixth inning. The No. 3 Greyhounds kept fighting and scored again in the top of the seventh, and even had two players on base when the final strikeout was thrown.
A 9-4 victory over their county foe gave East Surry their 14th conference tournament championship in program history.
“We have a great deal of respect for the North Surry baseball program, and Coach [Daryll] Johnson has always prepared them well,” said East Surry coach Chad Freeman. “They had 10 out of 11 wins before the championship, so we knew they were a scrappy bunch. We made a few mistakes, but we found hits at key times.
“A lot of guys have stepped up for us, so hopefully this will give us some momentum as we prepare for the state playoffs.”
East and North Surry are two programs very familiar with conference tournament championship games. East won the Northwest 1A Conference Tournament Championship in 2013-15, 2017, and 2018, then finished second in the tournament in 2019. North won the Western Piedmont 2A Conference Tournament Championship in 2019 and was a runner-up in 2017 and 2018.
No conference tournaments were held in 2020 or 2021.
“I’m incredibly proud of the guys who fought to get here and put us in a position to compete for a championship,” Johnson said. “The box scores were almost identical, but East Surry was able to get theirs when they needed it and they made big plays. They have a culture they live in and they have done very well. We also have a culture and we want to be successful every time we go. Success is measured in different ways, and I don’t always judge by what the scorecard says.
“We are not finished. We’re going to prepare for wherever we need to go if we’re lucky enough to have a playoff spot.
The road to the FH2A Championship
North felt he had unfinished business with top-seeded East Surry after the teams last met. The Cardinals took the win 2-1 even though they didn’t get past second base after the third inning. The Greyhounds charged the bases three times after scoring their only run, but couldn’t convert a run.
“Honestly, I thought they outplayed us in that game at home,” Freeman said. “We weren’t as sharp as we should have been, we were just lucky enough to make the necessary plays to get the win. Overall they were better prepared for the second game even though we won the game.
Knowing that his team had shown they could compete with East, the highest-ranked team in the FH2A conference, served as additional motivation for Johnson and the Greyhounds.
“It was a bad feeling coming out of that game, and we took that game and grew from it,” Johnson said. “If the ball had bounced in our direction several times when it was not, things might have ended differently. This match, like those against Forbush and the match at West Wilkes, was a wake-up call for us.
North Surry’s 17-11 defeat at West Wilkes on 4 April was a turning point for the team. The Greyhounds, who fell to 6-7 on aggregate after the loss, committed a season-high nine errors against the Blackhawks.
“We had a team meeting and discussed some things that will stay between us as a team,” Johnson said. “They agreed it was unacceptable. We weren’t mentally strong at the start of the season and, although we weren’t quite where we wanted to be, we’ve come a long way since then.
The Greyhounds won 10 of their next 11 games, including a 3-0 victory over No. 2 seed Forbush, to reach the conference championship game. Forbush beat North Surry 8-2 and 9-1 in their two regular season encounters.
“It’s been a long season, but it’s been a good season,” Johnson said. “I watched other teams and saw how they react to adversity, then take a look at mine. I wouldn’t trade my guys for anything… there’s a lot of respect in that dugout for the people in our circle. It got us to where we are.
East Surry, meanwhile, had to pick up wins in several close games to keep their undefeated conference campaign alive. This included two close games against Forbush, the aforementioned win over North Surry, a win from behind at West Wilkes and a win at Surry Central to close out the regular season.
The No. 1 Cardinals defeated No. 4 West Wilkes 10-1 to reach the conference tournament championship.
“We made sure to emphasize in practice that we couldn’t take North Surry lightly, and the guys knew that,” Freeman said. “We’ve talked about it and no one on our team has been on a conference tournament championship team. It’s something special, and North plays for the same price.
“Another wildcard is that we’ve never faced Cam Taylor in the regular season either. He started the second half of the conference season well for them, and we really didn’t know what to expect.
Freeman compared the tournament championship to a heavyweight boxing match.
“It was like two good boxers going back and forth,” Freeman said. “One side would go into a run with a few quality punches and then the other would fight and build momentum. It was a high quality match, and that’s what you expect from a championship.
North Surry (16-9) was first on the board with a run in the top of the first inning. Leader Ethan Edwards reached first on a field error from Cardinal, moved to second and then third on a pair of wild pitches. James McCreary tagged Edwards with a blooper to the third baseman’s head.
The Cardinals (21-1) mimicked the Hounds and put their heads up after a fielding error. Trey Armstrong was hit by a pitch, then Folger Boaz was walked to charge the bases with no outs. After landing a strikeout, North Surry pitcher Cam Taylor walked Anthony Ayers to bring Luke Bowman through home plate to tie the game.
North faced another round of bases loaded after the walk, but converted a double play to end the inning. Caden Lasley hit a grounder to Edwards and the first, and Edwards threw a pitch to Brodie Robertson at home for the forced out. Robertson quickly fired back to Edwards early for the third out of the inning.
East Surry added three late in the second to take their first lead of the night. Matthew Keener and Bowman each scored a single, and Tristen Mason was walked to load the bases like in the first inning. Armstrong, who was named the FH2A Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, hit a 2RBI single against Keener and Mason.
“Trey was just phenomenal the whole tournament; he really played out of his mind,” Freeman said. “He played very well on the court and made that spectacular diving save. During the entire tournament, he only went out once at home plate.
A sacrifice fly hit by Boaz brought Bowman on to make it a 4-1 game.
North Surry fought back in the top of the third when Edwards and Kolby Watson singled. A cardinal error on Watson’s shot allowed the runners to advance to second and third, and then Robertson joined his teammates after being hit by a pitch from Luke Brown.
Myles Draughn scored Edwards with a single to make it 4-2. The Cardinals got Watson out when he tried to head home, but a McCreary ground shot allowed Trevor Isaacs – running for Robertson – to score and make it 4-3.
The Cardinals added an insurance run late in the fourth inning when Boaz pulled out to tag Bowman. North Surry had chances to fight back in the fifth and sixth but left two runners on base each time.
The Hounds had bad luck in the sixth inning with runners in the corners. Edwards was at bat and faced a 2-2 count. Edwards attempted to dodge a pitch thrown his way, but his bat inadvertently made contact with the ball. Taylor never had a chance to make it home on the wild pitch as it was ruled a foul ball, and this caused the count to remain at 2-2 instead of going to 3-2. Brown retired Edwards on the next pitch.
East Surry went to the top of the lineup in the bottom of the sixth and broke for back-to-back doubles, put a runner on base with an intentional walk, then threw two more doubles to increase their lead to 9-3. North Surry led in hits 7-6 heading into the sixth.
“We just took good approaches, and when we had pitches to hit, we took advantage of them,” Freeman said. “We also had a strong base throughout the game.”
The Greyhounds kept fighting and added a run in the top of the seventh. The Cards made two field errors that opened the door for Watson to score, but North once again left two runners on base.
“I’m proud of them, and I’m sure to tell them that,” Johnson said. “It’s been tough getting to where we are, and it’s certainly not easy. But we don’t want it to be easy. That’s how we improve.
“I hope we get a good draw in the playoffs. We played bad games and had bad performances so we put ourselves here and now we have to do something about it.
Taylor went 5.1 innings on the mound for North Surry. He threw two strikeouts, hit batters, walked three and allowed eight runs on eight hits. McCreary pitched the final 0.2 innings and allowed a run on two hits.
Brown earned the victory on the mound for East throwing six strikeouts, two walks and allowing three runs on seven hits in 6.0 innings. Anthony Ayers pitched the last inning and had one strikeout, one walk and allowed a run.
Surry North – 1, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 4
East Surry – 1, 3, 0, 1, 0, 4, X=9