By CHRIS HOBBS
A Maiden High varsity baseball team that did not let three single-run losses to start the season overwhelm it is on the way to the Catawba Valley 2A Athletic tournament as a top seed.
Head coach Dustin Hull’s Blue Devils (16-6 overall, five straight wins) won 13 straight league games – the last in their final at-bat – to win a conference title.
Maiden started the season with a 7-6 loss at North Iredell, fell 4-3 at home to East Burke on March 7 in a league opener and was winless after falling 5-4 at Hickory.
Eighth-seed West Caldwell (1-23 overall, 0-14 CVAC 2A, five straight losses) opens the tournament at Maiden on Monday night at 7 p.m. as one of four first-round games.
The league title was not decided until Maiden, now 40-25 under Hull (fourth year), rallied to win at Newton-Conover on Wednesday night in a game moved up from Friday because of a threat for rain.
Seth Williams singled on the first pitch of a seventh-inning at-bat, scoring a deciding run as the Blue Devils won at home and improved to 5-4 in one-run games this year.
Maiden’s current win streak trails only an eight-game stretch it put together from March 16 through April 6, and it came in a stretch where the Blue Devils went 10-1.
To beat the Red Devils and clinch a title, Maiden scored three runs in the sixth inning. An error on a ball put in play by Hayden Fleury and a double by Ben Woodring were keys in that inning for the Blue Devils.
Nick Jaroysnski, pitching in relief, gained a win for Maiden. A right-hander, he threw an inning and gave up no runs (two strikeouts, one walk).
Tyler Hedgepeth was Maiden’s starter, going six innings. He allowed five hits and four runs, striking out 10 and walking one.
Hunter Townsend stole two bases for the Blue Devils, who twice beat second-place Bandys to secure a title.
In the other tournament openers:
Lincolnton at Bandys: The Trojans have split their last six games and are 5-4 since they nipped Lincolnton 7-4 for what was their seventh straight victory.
Bandys won a regular-season home game over the Wolves 10-0.
Newton-Conover at East Burke: At 7-17, the Red Devils have the most wins they’ve posted since going 7-17 in 2016.
Newton-Conover has won eight or more in a season only three times since Corey Nunley took over as head coach in 2008 (10 is tops, twice).
The Red Devils haven’t had a winning season since 2001,
First-year head coach Camden Young has East Burke in position for potentially posting its first winning record since 2009.
After an early 3-1 start, the Cavs have won back-to-back games only once the rest of the way.
East Burke won 12-1 in Newton and 6-3 in Icard.
Bunker Hill at West Lincoln: West Lincoln closed with three straight league wins, outscoring opponents 28-2, to get above .500.
The Bears went 3-6 over their final nine games — losing three of four when they were outscored 34-7 –and that has potentially put their 14-year run of non-losing records at peril (13 winning years, .500 a year ago).
The second round of the league tournament is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at higher seeds and the title game is Thursday at 7 p.m. at the highest seed.
Indians need win for title
In a super tight Western Foothills 3A race, St. Stephens (17-4, 10-2) has secured no worse than a tie for the conference championship.
There’s a three-way tie for second place, each at 8-4, among Fred T. Foard, Hickory and North Lincoln.
The Indians has won five straight and 10 of 11 as they prepare to face winless Statesville in Hickory on Monday night. The regular-season finale on Thursday night is St. Stephens at Fred T. Foard.
North Lincoln played its way back into contention with a 6-0 road shutout of Foard on Wednesday – snapping the Tigers’ streak of three straight league wins.
Monday’s Foard at Hickory game is a big one, set up by Hickory stopping a five-game skid with a 9-4 win at West Iredell on Friday.
Hickory closes against Statesville while North Lincoln’s fate rest in results against West Iredell on the road and at home against East Lincoln.
Cougars, Pioneers earn byes
Alexander Central finished 9-1 in the Northwestern 3A-4A, a game up on second-place Watauga, and will have first-round byes for the conference tournament beginning Monday.
The Cougars have won two straight games and 14 of 16 under Pete Hardee, who is 13 wins away from 500 for his career (123 of the wins while at Alexander Central, eight years).
Watauga has won four straight and five of seven under head coach Michael Windish, 33-14 since he came to Boone before last season.
Of note, South Caldwell will have another winning season. In records dating back to 1998, the Spartans have had a winning record in all 26 of those previous seasons.
Current win totals among area head baseball coaches as the postseason nears, meaning some milestone wins could be part of the mix next season:
- With a modest (by East Lincoln standards) longest win streak of the year being five games, Chris Matile is at 289 career victories.
- Fred T. Foard’s Channon Vogel could reach 200 career wins. His Tigers have been shutout only once this season as he has climbed to 186 victories.
- Hickory’s David Craft, who gained career win No. 500 with a win at East Lincoln on March 14, is up to 488 wins as HHS, his alma mater, in 33 seasons. The Red Tornadoes started 13-1 and 1-5 since shutting out East Lincoln at Hickory.
- In this third season at St. Stephens head coach Jimmy Bowman is already 51-15.
- South Caldwell’s Jeff Parham is at 460 wins during his 22nd season.
- Jonathan Browning should get a shot at 100 career wins; he’s at 93 and in his 10th year at Patton.