Editor’s note: The resumption of the Cornerstone-Chatham Charter baseball game took place after the News + Record’s publication deadline. For an updated version of the story — and the game’s …
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SILER CITY — That pesky Mother Nature.
Last Friday, she prevented Chatham Charter from hosting conference foe Cornerstone Charter Academy. She intervened again Monday evening — just as the two teams were set to begin extra innings in a crucial late-season game with potential postseason implications.
The bottom of the seventh inning had just wrapped up on Monday evening — with teams preparing for extras, tied 1-1 — when the sky opened up, causing heavy rain and lightning that forced the game’s suspension.
The two teams were forced to come back the following day, Tuesday, at 5 p.m. to resume the extra-inning affair. It took until the top of the 10th inning for any additional runs to score, when the Cardinals took a 2-1 lead on a solo home run by sophomore infielder Aidan Pugh that acted as the eventual game-winner.
With the start of the NCHSAA postseason just over a week away (June 15), there was much to be much to be sorted out in the Central Tar Heel 1A conference, which is currently led by Cornerstone (7-0 in the conference), heading into this game. However, while second-place Chatham Charter had a shot to force a tie for first place in the league if it beat Cornerstone on Tuesday, the loss solidifies the Cardinals (2-0 against the Knights this season) as conference champions.
Had the Knights won on Tuesday, a one-game playoff would have taken place on Thursday at Southern Guilford to determine which squad receives the conference’s lone automatic bid to the 1A playoffs, a pandemic-related change to this year’s postseason.
But the Cardinals' victory put the Knights in the position where they have to hope for one of the four playoff wild-card bids in the 1A West, which they have a strong chance to nab with their 5-2 conference record (9-2 overall record).
Monday’s action reflected both the quality of the two teams and the importance of the game.
Chatham Charter and Cornerstone each sent aces to the mound in senior Trevor Golden and sophomore Tucker Smith, respectively, and neither disappointed.
Between the two pitchers — both of whom threw the full seven innings — Monday’s game featured 19 strikeouts and only seven hits, quite different from the 11-6 affair the teams starred in on May 18. There wasn’t a single walk.
While Cornerstone’s Smith was impressive, Chatham Charter managed to grab an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first because of a self-inflicted woe on part of the sophomore pitcher.
Following a single, a sacrifice bunt and a stolen base, Chatham Charter freshman shortstop Aidan Allred reached third base. That’s when Smith balked, ushering in the game’s opening run in an unconventional fashion.
Unfortunately for Chatham Charter, generating offense was much more difficult the rest of the night. The Knights couldn’t do anything with a two-out double by senior catcher Jacob Brannon later on in the first, and they put together only three hits over the next six innings.
But like the Knights, the visiting Cardinals also had a difficult time putting the bat on the ball. Golden, going out in style on his senior night, recorded 12 strikeouts and gave up only one run over seven innings of work, lowering his earned run average to 1.25.
At one point, Golden struck out 10 batters in a 16-hitter stretch and didn’t allow a baserunner in his final three innings. He rarely fell behind in counts, located his pitches well and kept most balls that were put into play on the ground. The lefty’s ability to unpredictably filter back and forth between his fastball and breaking ball made him an enigma to Cornerstone batters on many occasions.
But the Cardinals pulled even in the top of the fourth as centerfielder Gavin Hernandez singled, stole second base and scored when third baseman Jake Stanfield lined one to center field.
From that point on, both pitchers were locked in.
Chatham Charter, however, had better opportunities down the stretch but stranded runners in scoring position in both the sixth and seventh frames. In the sixth, Knights sophomore Cameron Turner reached third with two outs following an error and a second balk from Smith, but Brannon flew out to the shortstop with two outs, ending the inning.
In the seventh, Chatham Charter wasted a pair of singles to right and left field by senior centerfielder Carter Phillips and junior first baseman Landon Hussey, respectively. They were unable to drive either of them home, forcing extra innings.
But by that point, the weather intervened, pushing the final outcome of the contest to Tuesday evening, where the Cardinals took advantage of Turner — who pitched all three extra innings for the Knights — racking up five hits, including the game-winning home run by Pugh.
Cornerstone's defense made sure to show up again on Tuesday, where senior pitcher Carter Blum allowed just one hit and no earned runs in extras, downing Chatham Charter with relative ease.
The Knights will have one more conference contest on Wednesday against River Mill Academy (1-8) before postseason bracketing takes place on Saturday.