Panthers advance with 3-1 win
Piedmont High mustered just three hits, but played sterling defense behind ace Corey Sikes to defeat Wheatmore 3-1 in the first round of the 2A baseball playoffs on Friday.
Junior right fielder Nigel Hester went 2-for-3 with a home run and scored twice, while also providing the play of the day on defense.
With men on second and third and one out in the sixth inning, Trey Byrd slapped a single to right that scored Jason Ozment. Devon Holbrook tried to scored from second on the play, but Hester threw him out at the plate.
"I knew he was going to head home the way he rounded third real hard," Hester said. "I just let it go. See what happens. Turned out to be a good throw."
Piedmont got on the board in the first inning after senior second baseman John Elwood drew a leadoff walk.
The Panthers didn't have a hit in the inning, but Elwood eventually scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead.
Along with Hester's assist from the outfield, center fielder Cameron Price made a diving catch in the second inning.
Piedmont has now gone six games in a row without committing an error.
"Defense is the backbone of our team," said Elwood, who has signed with Pfeiffer University. "Defense and pitching wins baseball games. Hitting is a bonus."
Elwood led off the third inning with a single to left for his team's first hit of the game, but was left on basel.
Hester led off the fourth with a single to right, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. He scored on yet another pitch that bounced in front of the catcher, giving the Panthers a 2-0 after four innings.
Wheatmore loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth trailing 2-1, but Sikes struck out junior Zach Lax looking to end the inning.
Sikes improved to 8-0 on the season. He allowed six hits, including four doubles, while striking out six and walking three.
Sikes defeated Wheatmore ace Chase Saunders, who struck out 15 last month in a 3-0 win over defending 2A state champion Randleman.
"That was a tough first-round draw for us," said Piedmont coach Milt Flow. "All the reports I got were how good a pitcher he is and they were right. We'll take a win any way we can get it."
Piedmont improved to 23-2 on the season while ending Wheatmore's season at 15-10.
Hester added an insurance run with one out in the sixth inning with his second home run of the season.
"I went up there thinking I'm going to hit this first pitch because I had a feeling he was going to throw a fastball outside, and he did," Hester said. "I just hit it over the fence. I knew right away it was gone."
Piedmont will play at home in the second round against Salisbury (13-11), a 7-1 winner over Starmount.