Northwestern coach Mitch Walters referred to Saturday afternoon's baseball game as "prom game." The Trojans have played six of them over the years. This time they won.
The Trojans (17-8) spotted Easley a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but followed with five unanswered runs of their own to take a 5-2 win in the winner's bracket game of the District III state playoffs. Northwestern's next game will be at home at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
Clay Bates improved to 7-0 by throwing five-plus innings for the Trojans. The senior threw 105 pitches, walked eight and struck out seven. He pitched out of trouble almost every inning.
In the first inning, Easley scored a run off three hits and two walks. Cliff Alexander drove in the run with a bouncing infield hit. None of the hits left the infield. The Green Wave had the bases loaded but Bates got Connor Edwards to ground out to end the inning.
Bates got big strikeouts to end the third, fourth and fifth innings with runners in scoring position.
"We caught some unlucky breaks in the first inning. They got a couple infield hits," Bates said. "There is nothing you could do so I didn't worry about it. One run wasn't going to win the game."
Northwestern scored twice in the home half of the first. Chad Smith and Will Stephenson had RBI singles. The Trojans added a run in the second and two more in the third. Stephenson went 3-for-3 and is 5-for-6 in the postseason.
Bates helped his own cause with a run-scoring double in the third inning.
The Trojans scored all of their runs off Green Wave starting left-hander Brandon Smith (5-3). Tucker Burgess finished the game and held Northwestern in check.
Easley (15-6) beat Mauldin 10-2 on Thursday. It lost its regular-season finale to Wren.
Easley will play at home on Monday against either Mauldin or Ridge View.
Northwestern turned in back-to-back defensive gems in the sixth inning. The first came with two on and no outs. Collin Green hit a hot shot up the middle. Chad Smith, playing shortstop, dove to his left to glove the ball and flipped to Stewart Hunt to get the runner at second. The next batter lined a ball to Stephenson at first who alertly doubled the runner off first base to end the inning.
Easley's Joey Pankake doubled off Trojans' reliever Zach Watts to start the seventh. He eventually scored on another Alexander base hit to make it a 5-2 game with one out.
Walters said he was a little worried that all the baserunners Easley had in the game was finally going to catch up to his team in the final frame.
Watts gave up a walk before getting a fly out and a ground out to end the game.
Easley left 12 runners stranded in the game.
Pankake, a senior shortstop, was 3-for-3 with two doubles. He had three hits including a double and a homer on Thursday against Mauldin.
"We just didn't get timely hits and the Bates kid pitched out of some situations," Easley coach Roger Finley said. "It was a frustrating game. In the past we've been very capable to score runs in those situations. Give Northwestern credit, they hit well, too."
Chris Hyatt, Northwestern's senior catcher, had two more hits including an RBI-single in the third. He is 3-for-4 in two playoff games and has raised his batting average to .530 (35-for-66). He bats eighth in the lineup.
Going into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed allowed Walters to set up his pitching rotation for a long postseason run.
The coach went with Chad Smith to beat Ridge View on Thursday and then came back with his ace, Bates for Saturday's big win. Walters said he never had the chance to go with anyone other than his top pitcher as a lower seed.
Brandon Smith, Tucker Burgess (3) and Mitchell English. Clay Bates, Zach Watts (6) and Chris Hyatt. W -- Bates (7-0). L -- B. Smith (5-3). 2B -- Joey Pankake 2 (E), Bates (N), Will Stephenson (N), Heath Myers (N).
Leading hitters: Easley -- Pankake 3-3, Cliff Alexander 2-4, 2 RBIs, Collin Green 2-4. Northwestern -- Stephenson 3-3, Taylor Norris 2-4, Hyatt 2-2.