By RYAN HERMAN
TAYLORSVILLE –– The Lincoln County Cardinals got just what they needed at the right time.
Brady Drennen had three hits and three RBIs, Alex Pickeral drove in three runs and Paul Cochrane breezed his way through five-plus innings as the Cardinals eased their way past Alexander County Post 170, 11-1, in seven innings on Monday.
The win gave Post 455 (6-8, 5-5) back-to-back wins for just the second time this season, and was its highest scoring output since defeating the Carolina Heat 12-2 on June 7. But the streak was snapped on Tuesday as the Cardinals were routed by the Gaston Braves, 20-5, who clinched the division title in the process.
The streak didn’t reach three, but Monday’s win also added some depth to manager Bruce Bolick’s short-armed pitching staff.
“We really came out and jumped on them early,” said Bolick, whose team scored three runs in the first and led 4-0 through two. “And Paul, what an outing. We needed that.”
Sunday marks the final day of the Area IV regular season, and through Monday’s games the Cardinals were in fourth in the eight-team division and held a half-game lead on fifth-place Mint Hill. They also trailed third-place Gastonia Post 23 by a half-game, as all three teams had four division losses entering Tuesday’s play.
Post 170 (8-4, 7-3) played Monday’s contest with only nine players, many of whom played out of position. Lincoln County needed just the three first-inning runs, but a six-run fifth inning put the game out of reach.
The Cardinals sent 11 to bat in the frame, which began with four consecutive singles by Nick Savoie, Bradley Hallman, Pickeral, who drove in the first of the six runs, and Justin Norton.
J.T. Bowden reached on a walk as the top-half’s fifth batter, ending Alexander County starter Travis Reed’s outing. Dalton Hefner followed with a sac fly, Hallman scored on a wild pitch, and Drennen plated his second run of the game for an 8-0 lead.
Savoie, who began the inning, doubled to the gap in left-center to score two and effectively put Post 170 in danger of being mercy ruled.
Cochrane, who worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam unharmed in the first thanks to two walks and a hit batter, retired 10 in a row at one point and took a no-hitter into the fifth.
The streak ended to start the fifth when he hit Austin Nantz, and Dylan Desseker broke up the no-hitter with a one-out single to right. Nantz, who moved to second on a fielding error by Hallman at shortstop, scored his team’s only run on an error when the ball hit by Desseker was mishandled after it was thrown back in.
Mason Stikeleather caught the Post 455 defense off guard by bunting his way on to start the sixth, and after a walk to Nantz, Cochrane’s evening was done.
The rising North Lincoln junior gave up one earned run on two hits and struck out four, including the side in a perfect second. He was relieved by Brett Wright, who gave up one hit –– to Desseker in the seventh –– and got a pitcher-friendly 4-3 double play to end the game in seven innings.
Hefner led off the top of the seventh with a double, and scored on Drennen’s single to right to make it 11-1. Drennen singled home Bryan Seymour in the second to make it 4-0, and Pickeral’s two-run double in the first gave the Cardinals an early 3-0 lead.
Eight of the nine in Post 455’s lineup had at least one hit, and all nine scored at least one run. Nathaniel Scoggins had two hits and drove in the game’s first run, Savoie had two hits, Hallman had two hits and scored twice and Pickeral and Norton had two hits each.