PLAYOFF PREVIEW: East Regional Finals
By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
The final four has arrived for spring high school baseball and softball, with both sports on the brink of determining representatives for the state championships, meaning this week’s regional series will provide the biggest moments this season.
Only one area school, D.H. Conley, remains in the hunt, as the Vikings’ baseball and softball teams are looking to knock off their opponents in the quest to bring titles back to Hollywood Crossroads.
The regional finals are set in three-game series. The first will be played tonight at the low-seed, and Game Two will be Thursday at the higher seed. If necessary, a Game Three will be played at the lower seed once again. All games are set for a 7 p.m. first pitch.
No. 2 D.H. Conley at No. 1 New Hanover
The Vikings picked up the second seed after falling to New Bern in the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference finals on May 3. While he doesn’t enjoy losing, head coach Jason Mills saw an upside in not having to face New Hanover earlier in the bracket.
It seemed as if the meeting between arguably the top two teams in North Carolina was inevitable, and now the winner will be advancing for the chance to win it all.
Leading the charge for DHC will be leadoff hitter Cam Jackson, who has continued his hot streak at the plate deep into the postseason. With teammate Jake Lysaght also feeling the groove and the rebound of UNC Greensboro commit Robbie O’Neal, the top third of the Vikings lineup will be key to gaining momentum early in the game.
While he may be back on the upswing at the plate, O’Neal never faltered on the mound. He had a strong outing Friday in the Vikings’ 9-5 win over Fike in the fourth round, keeping batters off balance with a combination of fastballs and change-ups.
The reigning state champion Wildcats are looking to retain their crown, and they have plenty of stars in the lineup to help them do so, led by a pair of ACC recruits in N.C. State pitcher commit Blake Walston and North Carolina commit Kyle Smith, a catcher.
Walston, rated the fifth-best pitcher and second overall prospect in N.C. by PrepsbaseballReport.com, makes his living off a 92 MPH fastball.
“Walston is a guy who could be selected early in June’s MLB draft,” Jackson Fuller of the (Wilmington) Star-News said. “His 92 MPH fastball pairs nicely with a hard breaking ball and a moving changeup.”
On the receiving end of Walston’s pitches is No. 1 overall catching prospect and top overall prospect Smith. The 5-foot-11 righty holds a .504 batting average entering the regional finals, and can make key defensive plays behind the plate.
“Walston has got power to all fields,” Fuller said. “He has two home runs through four playoff games. If there are runners on base when Smith gets in the batters box, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually cross the plate.”
PREDICTION: New Hanover takes Game One, as the Vikings struggle to get comfortable on the road and adjust to the speed from Walston.
No. 2 Eastern Alamance at No. 1 D.H. Conley
DHC got over the fourth-round hump last Friday in a 3-2 walk-off win over No. 5 Southern Alamance. After falling short the previous two seasons, this Conley squad is looking to send out its 12 seniors on top.
Sophomore N.C. State commit Lauren Wiles has thrived in the circle for the Vikings. She has fully embraced the role as Conley’s go-to pitcher and has not disappointed head coach Wayne Deans or her teammates.
If a batter does make contact off Wiles, Conley’s defense has been tight this season. The Phillips sisters, Lexi and Alexis, patrol at third base and shortstop, and in the outfield, Carson Fleming, Anna Sawyer and Peyton Farmer have provided consistency.
Sawyer has also exploded at the plate in her freshman season. She brings in a .598 batting average, which includes 16 doubles, four triples and two home runs to go along with her team-leading 62 RBIs.
Underclassmen are leading the way for the Eagles.
Sophomore Reagan Hartley (.492) and freshmen Kenna Raye Dark (.500) and Madelyn Lawson (.448) all boast big averages. Senior Morgan Lawson (.405) and junior Haley Batista (.468) are also having strong years at the plate. Hartley is also a threat on the basepaths, leading the team with 22 stolen bases.
Dark is the top pitcher for the Eagles at 18-1 on the year with a 0.58 ERA.
If Wiles and Dark face off, hits will be tough to come by, leaving consistency and smart baserunning the keys to victory.
PREDICTION: Conley wins the opener in front of a rowdy home crowd.
Contact Jake Keator at email@example.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.
TRACK AND FIELD
Local teams finish season
Teams from across the area completed another track and field season after competing in the state finals over the weekend.
On the boys side, J.H. Rose finished tied for 33rd with seven points and D.H. Conley finished tied for 53rd with one point. The Rampants girls team took 31st with seven points, while the Conley girls finished just behind them in 39th with three points.
Conley's 4x800m relay team of Eli Orians, Jalen Wilson, AJ Miller and Zach Tucker placed eighth after breaking their own school record with a time of 8:11.2.
In the boys 2-A competition, Farmville Central led the way, taking 10th place with 10 points behind a second-place shot put finish from East Carolina football commit Keziah Everett. Ayden-Grifton, North Pitt and Greene Central all finished tied for 46th with four points.
Ayden-Grifton led the way in the girls 2-A finals, finishing tied for 13th with 15 points. North Pitt took 44th after finishing with one point.