Baseball

East Rutherford downs South Granville, wins 2-A baseball title

Posted June 5, 2016

— South Granville's time as a reigning baseball champion came to an end Sunday evening at Burlington Athletic Stadium as the Vikings fell 10-5 to East Rutherford in the third game of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A baseball state championship.

The Vikings gave up eight runs in the second inning, digging a hole they were unable to climb out of, despite finishing the game with five runs on seven hits.

"That's a great team, right there," said South Granville Head Coach Curt Watkins. "That's the best team we've played all year, and we've played some top 4-A schools. They just hit it, and there's nothing we can do about it."

The Vikings lost 8-0 in the first game of the best-of-three series, but after falling 11-1 in the second game of last year's championship series, the Vikings knew how to come back. The team won 9-3 in the second game Sunday afternoon to force the third.

"It took so much to get through that second game and get to that third one," Watkins said. "It takes a lot out of a lot of guys to keep the momentum going."

Justin Bullock, an NC State recruit, started on the mound for South Granville. After neither team managed a run in the first inning, East Rutherford exploded in the second, recording a single, four doubles and a triple. The Vikings gave up their first run by committing an error on a throw to home, allowing Gehrig Christopher to score.

Nick Strickland's triple scored two more runs for East Rutherford. Kendall McGowan doubled to score another, then Reese Oliver's double scored two more. Later in the inning, Matt Miller doubled in two runs to get the Cavaliers to 8-0 on the scoreboard.

"They were lifting balls and getting it up in the wind, and they were floating," Watkins said. "We were hitting balls hard on the line, and the wind really doesn't help you much there."

Justin Brown, a senior and a UNC-Pembroke recruit, came onto the mound for the Vikings and got the last two outs of the inning to end the Cavalier run. Brown pitched the remainder of the game, giving up two runs on six hits and finishing with seven strikeouts.

"I was already mentally ready to go in," Brown said. "They're a good hitting team, you've got to give them that. When he called me, I knew I had to shut them down and keep the runs at a minimum. That's what I tried to do."

Tucker Britt's RBI-groundout in the bottom of the second inning scored Clay Walters for the Vikings' first run of the game. Walters' single in the bottom of the third scored Tucker Brown and Bullock to get South Granville within 8-3.

East Rutherford plated another run in the fourth inning on a single from Chirstopher. Tucker Brown responded in the bottom of the frame with a sac bunt to score Britt.

Each team had just one run left in the tank after the fourth inning. McGowan doubled in a run in the top of the fifth, and Walters hit a solo home run in the bottom of the inning.

"We've scored eight runs in an inning before, and I had a feeling we could have done it again, but we just got the short end of the stick," Justin Brown said.

Ethan Stewart of East Rutherford was named the series' Most Valuable Player. He pitched a complete-game shutout in the first game and closed the third game for the Cavaliers.

"He's a freaking stud," Watkins said. "I really tip my hat to him. I would have never, in a million years, thought that he'd be back on the mound after throwing 100-something pitches yesterday. But he's a workhorse, and I knew that coming in."

The win gives East Rutherford six state championship titles in program history. The Cavaliers previously won championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2010.

South Granville finished the year with 23 wins, coming a few runs away from the program's second consecutive 2-A state championship. The team will graduate nine players from its current roster, but will return a good deal of production--including a pair of future NC State players in Bullock and sophomore Holden Laws.

"I'm upset, but we got the chance to experience it last year, and I know what I've got coming back next year," Watkins said. "It makes it a little bit easier, even though I'd love to be on their end."

Justin Brown, one of the several South Granville players who played their final high school game Sunday, said he will remember the friendships on the team more than anything else.

"In the game of baseball, when you get to play with your friends, you can't forget it," Brown said.

Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT

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