By RYAN HERMAN
CHERRYVILLE –– In the early innings Friday, Lincoln Charter was in the driver’s seat of knocking off the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference regular season champion and giving coach Mike Hartshorne his first win at Cherryville’s iconic Fraley Field.
With two swings of the bat, the Ironmen flipped things round.
Five walks in the third helped the Eagles to a three-run lead, but Lincoln Charter gave all of it back in the home-half of the frame and then some as Cherryville took it down 7-3 to win the league’s tournament title.
The patient-hitting Eagles scored two runs in the third on five walks off Ironmen ace Jonathan Carpenter to go up 3-0. But a lead-off single by Cherryville’s Jimmy Johnson in the bottom of the inning set the stage for five runs, four via the long ball, and essentially did Lincoln Charter in.
“We seem to not execute (when we play Cherryville),” said Hartshorne, whose team lost all three games it played against the Ironmen this season. “We seem to make the little mental mistakes, and they just keep taking advantage of it every time.”
Those mental mistakes came in the form of a throwing error by shortstop Barry Cheek and a pair of pitches left up in the zone by Zach Hollar.
Hollar, “who usually lives low, and he left a couple balls up,” Hartshorne said, gave up two-run shots to Caleb Narron and Carpenter, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and helped redeem his early-inning struggles.
Randall Long’s RBI hit made it a five-run inning for the hosts before Hollar retired Kacee Buff and Tyler Beam swinging, and the 5-3 deficit was too much for the Eagles (16-7) to overcome.
“Those are the mental mistakes that kind of cost us,” Hartshorne said.
Lincoln Charter, which scored on a throwing error by Carpenter in the first, and on a wild pitch plus a bags-full walk to Adam Hutson by Carpenter in the third for its early 3-0 lead, left the bases loaded that frame and did it twice more in the fifth and sixth innings.
In fact, the Eagles stranded 13 all together –– 11 after the second inning. They also went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and managed just six hits, two by Christian Hilty and two by Matt Stokes.
Lincoln Charter got the majority of its baserunners via the walk. The Eagles drew 11 of them, four alone by Andy Jones, who never made it past second base.
Hartshorne liked his team’s patience, but needs it to come through heading into the state playoffs when scoring opportunities present themselves.
“I thought we played well. I thought we were in there. We made it a ballgame and got up 3-nothing on some of their mistakes, then left 13 runners on base,” he said.
“When you don’t execute and you’re leaving that kind of runners on base it’s not good. You need run production, especially against a team like (Cherryville) that’s stacked with pitching. If you don’t take advantage of that, it’ll burn you.”
Cherryville freshman Noah Eaker relieved Carpenter with two away in the third and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win. Dillon Harris took over in the fifth after Ian Chryst’s lead-off double –– Lincoln Charter’s only extra-base hit –– and pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts for the save.
Both teams begin the state playoffs this week. The Eagles feel they made a good showing the conference tournament by reaching the title game, and Hartshorne thinks facing a team like Cherryville (18-6) was an added bonus.
But a loss is a loss, and it’s something Lincoln Charter doesn’t want to feel again.
“We played well in the conference tournament, really well. Going up against a team like Cherryville, it’s good practice for us. We’re going to see good pitching, we’re going to see a lot of juniors and seniors,” Hartshorne said. “What we take from this is it stings, and they don’t like that feeling. Unless they want to feel that feeling again, they’re going to have to execute.”