Warriors bounce back, even series
Fittingly, the three-game baseball series between Union County’s two defending state champions couldn’t be any tighter.
Weddington scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat Piedmont 6-5 on Wednesday. Just a day earlier, Piedmont scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning for an 8-7 home win over WHS.
Weddington and Piedmont are two of the state’s top baseball programs, and the intense rivalry also includes mutual respect.
“They’re a well-rounded team,” said Weddington junior center fielder John Conte, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI. “They have some pretty good pitchers and some good hitters. It’s definitely a good matchup between the two teams.”
The series will be decided tonight in Unionville, when the powerhouses play again for the third time in four days.
One-third of the way through the Southern Carolina Conference schedule, it looks like four teams will battle it out for the league’s three guaranteed playoff bids.
Marvin Ridge is the only unblemished team in SCC games (5-0), followed by Piedmont (4-1), Weddington (3-2) and Cuthbertson (3-2).
“We need these conference wins,” Conte said. “Conference is big.”
Wednesday: WHS 6, Piedmont 5
Courtesy runner Nick Cooper used a face-first slide to score the winning run on a passed ball with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of seventh inning on Wednesday.
The Warriors led most of the game, but Piedmont got RBI singles from Nigel Hester and Hunter Jones to score two in the top of the sixth and take a 5-4 lead.
Daniel Calabretta led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, and evened the score when he came home on sophomore third baseman Josh Hollifield’s single.
Weddington out-hit the Panthers 8-7, and took advantage of five Piedmont errors.
Piedmont trailed 3-0 before scoring three times in the top of the fourth. Seth Rishing walked and Colton Greene reached on a bunt single, setting tje table for Hester, who banged a two-run triple off the wall in right.
Hester finished 3-for-4 with three RBI while Greene went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Calabretta was 2-for-4 for the Warriors and Hollifield reached base in all four of his plate appearances after going 3-for-5 the day before.
Side-winder Ryan Clinton earned the win in relief for Weddington. Clinton took over for starter Tyler Penner with one out and two on in the top of the fifth, and immediately induced a double play.
Pitcher Caleb Dulin started for Piedmont and was relieved in the seventh by David Nash, who took the loss.
Dulin allowed five runs but only one was earned. He remains 2-0 and his ERA is 0.39.
Tuesday: Piedmont 8, WHS 7 (9 innings)
Hunter Jones scored the winning run from third base on a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning of Piedmont’s 8-7 win over WHS on Tuesday night.
David Nash got the win in relief by forcing a ground-out with two runners on base to end the top of the ninth inning and keep the game tied at 7.
Corey Sikes started on the mound for Piedmont and didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings while striking out seven.
But Sikes gave up five runs in the fourth, and was relieved by Caleb Baucom after giving up a lead-off single to Hollifield in the fifth.
Baucom was effective, allowing two unearned runs and striking out six in nearly five innings of work.
Sean Collins started and pitched into the seventh inning for Weddington, but got a no decision.
Nash knocked in two runs with an opposite-field double off the right-field wall to make it 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth.
Sikes was 2-for-4 at the plate on Tuesday while Jones and sophomore third baseman Todd Elwood both went 2-for-5.
For a stretch of five straight weeks, the Southern Carolina Conference teams have three league games scheduled over four-day stretches.
What’s the most challenging aspect of such a rigorous schedule?
According to Conte, it’s “homework.”
“It gets kind of tiring,” Conte said. “Especially when you’re playing at Piedmont and getting home at like 12 o’clock and then you have homework. It’s stressful. You’ve got to love the game to do this.”
Conte, who is 4-of-9 at the plate in the series thus far, anticipates an intense battle for the conference title.
“You have to stay motivated and focused and determined,” he said. “Good things will happen if you play the right way.”
This time last year, Conte was chasing down fly balls for Weddington’s junior varsity team.
He wasn’t a part of the back-to-back state championships — an unprecedented feat in Union County — and he’s not gazing in awe at the trophy case.
“We’re not really worrying about that right now,” Conte said of the program’s recent history. “We have to focus on us. What happened two years ago or las year? That doesn’t really matter right now. We’re focused on this year.”
... Weddington started four juniors and two sophomores on Wednesday and Piedmont started four juniors and one sophomore.
... Piedmont junior Seth Rushing started at first base for the first time Wednesday. Rushing has played in six of the 10 games and has an on-base percentage of .714 in 13 plate appearances. He’s 2-for-6 (.333 average) with seven walks.
... The Panthers have three full-time starters batting over .400, including Hester (.541), Elwood (.464) and Jones (.447).
... Weddington is playing without one of its top seniors. Furman signee Landon Kay is out with a lower leg injury and wears a protective boot in the dugout.
... Including Kay, Weddington and Piedmont have nine college signees on their rosters. Weddington has five (four Division I) and Piedmont has four (three Division 1).
... Of the seniors who start on a regular basis for Weddington and Piedmont this season, 81.8 percent of them have signed a Letter of Intent.