Rock Hill baseball had a few more crucial hits in its bat barrels Tuesday night during a 10-8 win over Northwestern that gives the Bearcats the inside track to a Region 3-4A title.
Dell Corley’s team swept the Trojans for the first time in, well, no one knew, but it had certainly been a while. The Bearcats smacked 10 hits, the 13th time in the last 14 that they had double digit hits, according to Corley.
“We’ve been swinging the bats well the last 13 or 14 ballgames,” said Rock Hill’s coach. “Can’t ask more of these kids. I can tell you they’re playing loose, they’re confident and they believe in themselves.”
Corley added that he’s occasionally had to pounce on his team for being too loose, but that collective demeanor seemed helpful in Tuesday’s back and forth contest as the lead whipsawed in one direction then another. Both teams scored five runs in the fifth inning, after which the host Trojans led 8-6. But Rock Hill pushed three across in the sixth and added another in the seventh, while senior reliever Caleb Hamilton pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings to seal the win.
“We normally don’t ask him to come in for two innings, but we weren’t gonna hesitate tonight,” said Corley. “He went right at hitters and got outs. I think he threw maybe 20 pitches in two innings. If we can get that out of him and close ballgames, we’ve got a shot to do some things.”
The Bearcats certainly did some things in the fifth inning Tuesday. Northwestern got the beginnings of a quality start from Furman-bound pitcher Eric Taylor, who gave up just two hits in the first four frames. But he walked two straight Bearcat batters in the fifth before Zach Carter connected with an 0-2 pitch to drive in a run. Rock Hill’s starting arm, Will Reid, pumped up his own cause with a two-run single, before Wes Bostic’s sacrifice fly scored another run to push the Bearcats’ advantage to 6-3.
Northwestern pegged Rock Hill back with five in the bottom half of the frame. Catcher Brandon Ashley delivered a two-run single and when the Trojans loaded the bases several batters later, senior shortstop Dupree Hart - who Rock Hill fans must think will never graduate - raked a ball over the left fielder’s head for a bases-clearing shot and an 8-6 Trojan lead.
But where it might have in years past, Corley’s team didn’t collapse. Rock Hill pushed three runs across in the sixth off freshman reliever John Gilreath to reclaim the lead for good. No. 9 hitter Steven Buss came through with an RBI single, Zach Carter doubled, and both scored when Hamilton hit a ball hard to the edge of the infield, then beat out a throw at first to make it 9-8 Bearcats.
After moving from shortstop to the mound, Hamilton surrendered a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth, but sat down the next three batters. Rock Hill added a cushioning run in the top of the seventh, pinch hitter Grant Willson poking a two-out pitch for an RBI single, before Hamilton put down the side in the bottom half of the inning. He struck out the final batter with a slider, and jubilant Bearcats – now a game ahead of Nation Ford and Northwestern – charged out of the dugout and onto the diamond.
“Hadn’t threw one all game, but tried to that time and I got it,” said Hamilton, as his teammates alternately chucked ice cubes at him and tried to prank him while a reporter shot video. “I knew they didn’t expect that to come.”
It was a disappointing loss for Northwestern to ingest, but coach Mitch Walters said if the Trojans beat Gaffney on Friday they’ll lock up the region’s No. 2 seed.
“We had a chance to win and that’s all you want,” said Walters. “If they’re not the No. 1 team in the state then they’re the No. 2 team. They’ve got some great arms, three or four quality arms that’s gonna take them far in the playoffs.”
Rock Hill 10, Northwestern 8
WP- Will Reid; S-Caleb Hamilton; LP- John Gilreath. Leading hitters: Rock Hill- Zach Carter 2-4, 2B, RBI; Caleb Hamilton 1-2, 2 RBI; Will Reid 1-3, 2 RBI; Brandon Banks 2-3, RBI, 2B; Grant Willson 1-1, RBI. Northwestern- Dupree Hart 3-4, 3B, 3 RBI; Kirk Clayton 1-2, 2 BB, RBI; Brandon Ashley 1-2, 3 RBI, sac fly.
Records: Rock Hill 16-6, 8-3 Region 3-4A; Northwestern 7-4 Region 3-4A
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T