Defending champs stay alive
Weddington High's baseball team is moving on to the fourth round of the 3A state playoffs after a 3-2 road victory over Charlotte Catholic on Friday.
The Warriors (20-9) won behind a gutsy performance on the mound by junior Virginia commit Sean Collins, and strong work behind the plate by junior catcher Jake Ferry.
Collins struck out Cougars (21-7) batter Joey Eberle swinging for the final out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
"I threw the pitch, it was high, he swung," Collins said. "As soon as the umpire called strike, I pumped my fist and I just went crazy. It was exciting."
Two pitches earlier Ferry blocked a curveball in the dirt to keep the runners at bay.
"Between Sean Collins and Jake Ferry, our catcher, he is a wall back there and works hard. Sean threw well all night long," Warriors coach Travis Poole said. "I can't say enough about how much Jake has improved since day one. He works his butt off back there. They pull for each other and that is important."
Ferry didn't allow a single ball to get to the backstop the entire night.
"I try to keep a clear mind most of the time," Ferry said. "What I'm thinking about is with a right-hander curveball, the ball is going to cut back. I try to get as far around as possible to block it back towards the plate."
The Warriors worked out of a several jams, beginning in the first inning when two errors and a walk loaded the bases with one out.
Warriors shortstop and Duke commit Daniel Calabretta came up with the big play as he snared a grounder and fell on top of second base while rolling and throwing to first for a double play to end the threat.
The Warriors carried the momentum into the top of the second, when they scored all three of their runs.
Chris Simpson led off with a single, followed one out later by two Cougar errors on grounders by Davis Norred and Landon Kay. Simpson and Norred scored on the second error of the inning.
Jeff Welch singled, and Calabretta also singled to load the bases for Alex Bostic, whose infield single scored Welch with what proved to be the winning run.
The Cougars had a chance for a rally snuffed out in the fourth when Collins struck out his fourth batter of the game as he sat down Trent King looking.
Charlotte Catholic score twice in the fifth though to turn up the excitement.
Steven Prys, Jeff Ciesielski and Tyler Jensen all had singles in the fifth for the Cougars.
Collins' experience in big games allowed him to gather himself for the final two innings. He earned the win in the decisive game of the state championship series as a sophomore in 2012.
"It plays a huge role because we know what to expect from other teams and we know what to expect from ourselves," Collins said. "We know how to go out here and when ball games.
"You just go back to the basics when things aren't going right. Once you settle back in and focus in, everything will be all right. It works out."
The Warriors didn't score despite loading the bases in the sixth, but the defense came through with a 1-2-3 inning, including a strike out by Collins in the bottom half.
WHS loaded the bases in the seventh but Collins was able to finish the Cougars off.
Poole was proud of his team's fortitude.
"They battle and they have all year," Poole said. "They stay behind each other and pull for each other and that is what's important."
Collins gave up four hits, walked four and struck out seven.
"They were definitely aggressive up there and patient, too," Collins said. "They knew what to swing at and what not to swing at. They were hitting balls hard but we were just making good plays."
Ferry is a first-year starter, and replaced three-year starter Andrew Knight, who signed with Catawba College.
"It's been a little difficult but I try to make a name for myself," Ferry said. "I do the best I can every time I go out. I just go out there every day like it's my last. I keep grinding and doing my best. ... I'm just lucky to be out here."
The Warriors move on to face archrival Marvin Ridge in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday at Marvin.
The Warriors fell to the Mavs 2-1 in the conference tournament championship at Marvin Ridge and expect another tight battle.
"We've beat them one time. We've been in a 4-2, 6-4, 2-1, 2-1 games so you know it's going to be a dog fight," Poole said. "They are a very talented team, well coached. I look forward to going down there. It should be a great atmosphere for these kids to remember and play in."