Chargers have used extraordinary pitching and timely hitting to advance in N.C. 3A postseason play

You have to go back almost a century before you can find a Cleveland County high school baseball team that has advanced to the fourth round of the state playoffs four straight years.

But that's exactly where Crest High finds itself on Friday night at 7 p.m. when the Chargers host Carson in the Western N.C. 3A semifinals.

The winner advances to next week's best-of-three Western N.C. 3A championship series against the winner of Friday's T.C. Roberson at A.C. Reynolds fourth round playoff game.

"We're enjoying this and look forward to the opportunity ahead of us," Crest coach Steven Hodge said after the Chargers won 2-1 in eight innings on Tuesday in walkoff fashion against Alexander Central. "Once the playoffs start, every game you're record is 0-0. Even if you win, you're still 0-0 until you get to the Western finals."

Since Crest (24-2) is the No. 1 seed in the Western N.C. 3A bracket, some might think the Chargers would feel pressure.

Instead, the Chargers have thrived with extraordinary pitching and timely hitting.

After winning 10-0 in six innings over Greensboro Dudley and 6-0 over Northwest Cabarrus in the first two rounds, Crest outlasted Alexander Central on Tuesday by taking a 1-0 lead on John Kyle Mitchell's fourth-inning home run and winning on Luke Scism's two-out game-winning single in the eighth.

Riley Cheek (10-0 record) and Nick Melton (6-1) threw shutouts in the first two rounds before Cheek and reliever C.J. Mayhue combined on a five-hitter on Tuesday with Mayhue picking up the victory.

Alexander Central's run with one out in the sixth inning ended a 24 1-3 innings scoreless streak for Crest pitchers that dated to the first inning of the Chargers' 8-3 win over North Gaston on May 4 in the Big South 3A Conference tournament title game.

"Our pitching staff has done a great job," Hodge said. "And our hitters have come through when we needed them to."

Scism was Tuesday's hero with two of the team's three hits, including the game-winner.

"We live for these moments," said Scism, one of seven seniors who helped Crest go 22-8 last year and finish as N.C. 3A runner-up to Northern Guilford. "It gets tougher and tougher every round. But we've been here before and we know we have to pitch well, hit well and make plays."

Scism, Cheek, Melton, Mitchell, Caleb Plummer, Wyatt Guntis and Tanner Halbert are the Crest seniors who have been in the Chargers' program as it has set history.

Only from 1923 to 1930 when Shelby advanced to the fourth round of the playoffs for eight straight years has a Cleveland County school made four straight advances as far as what Crest has done.

And the first seven years of Shelby's run came when teams paid to participate in the playoffs rather than qualify through conference competition.

Including old Crest (located on Main Street in Boiling Springs in 1966 and 1967), Crest has advanced to the fourth round eight times in its history. Shelby has qualified 10 times, Kings Mountain three times and Burns twice.

"There's no question this has been a special group of players," Hodge said of his last four teams.

 

Richard Walker: 704-869-1841; twitter.com/jrwalk22