Homers help Piedmont beat Randleman, reach semis
Piedmont High's baseball team is in the semifinals of the state playoffs for the first time in 10 years, thanks in large part to the bottom of their lineup.
The Panthers rallied from an early deficit to knock out Randleman with a 5-2 home win in the 2A state quarterfinals on Tuesday night, getting a game-tying home run from No. 8 hitter Jonathan Caldwell in the second inning and a decisive two-run homer from No. 9 hitter Cody Purser in the fourth.
Piedmont reached the 3A state semifinals before falling to Ashbrook in 2003.
Panthers coach Milt Flow, now in his 16th year, is trying to deliver the program's second state championship. He was a player on the 1984 baseball team that won the state.
"I'm really happy for these guys because they took their lumps last year (14-15 record) but they kept working at it and now we're in the state semifinals," Flow said.
Piedmont (26-2) hosts Smoky Mountain (19-6), which eliminated West Lincoln with a 5-0 road win in the quarterfinals, on Thursday in the first game of a best-of-3 series. The second game is in Sylva on Friday, and Game 3, if necessary, will be back at Piedmont on Saturday.
The Panthers reached the semifinals with the long ball.
Caldwell, who didn't have a home run in Piedmont's first 26 games this season, now has two in his last two games.
"Right now this is the best feeling I've ever had playing any sport," said Caldwell, a senior first baseman who has signed with Limestone College. "We beat Randleman, and they're a great team. Now we've made the semifinals and we can't let up one bit."
Purser, a senior catcher, shares the team lead in home runs with six.
After Hunter Purser hit a one-out standup double in the fourth, Cody Purser put his team ahead 4-2 with his opposite-field homer.
"Cody, he's a good hitter," Flow said. "About midseason I slid him down to the nine spot and then he had that hot stretch and I said 'Are you ready to get moved out?' and he said 'No coach, I get more fastballs because people look at me and I'm a nine hitter.'"
"I just waited back and made good contact with it," Cody said. "I rounded first and saw it go out and I was pretty happy because I knew that was the go-ahead runs.
"Most teams don't expect a nine-hole hitter to have a lot of power so I like being down there. I want to do what's best for the team and I think staying down there is what's best for the team.
Randleman (23-6) got on the board first when Tyler Walls led off the game with a double and scored one out later on Cody Trogdon's two-run homer to left field.
"I was thinking 'We might be in trouble," Flow said. "But then (pitcher Cameron) Price settled in and got us out of the inning. We've been down four times this year and come back and won and I reminded the guys of that."
"They looked good in that first inning, and Cameron, he didn't have his best stuff but he had enough," Cody Purser said. "We settled down and started hitting the ball. We came together as a group. We're like a family. We don't fold under pressure."
Price, who worked out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth, improved to 7-1 on the mound.
Price yielded to Colby Barnette with one out in the fifth, and Barnette shut the Tigers down — allowing just one walk and no hits in 2.2 innings for his second save of the year.
After falling behind 2-0, Piedmont got a run back in the bottom of the first with a two-out rally. Barnette reached on an error, Hunter Jones beat out an infield single and Nigel Hester yanked a single to left that scored Barnette and cut the deficit to 2-1.
Caldwell then tied it up with his one-out homer in the second.
"He threw a curve ball and left it up a little bit and I just threw my hands at it and it went out," Caldwell said. "I wasn't trying to do too much. I was just trying to put it in play."
"As soon as he hit it I knew it was out," Flow said of Caldwell's home run. "It was a curve ball and he just waited on it and bam."
Four of Piedmont's seven hits went for extra bases, including John Elwood's team-high 10th double of the season, and the Panthers didn't commit an error for the ninth game in a row.
"Our defense was just stellar again tonight," Flow said. "The outfield went and got balls, the infield turned a double play, Austin (Harding) comes off the bench and makes a great play at third base ..."
"Our defense is unbelievable," Cody Purser said. "We're lights out on defense."