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2-A Baseball Playoffs: Croatan 9, West Bladen 4

NEWPORT – The long and winding road through the state baseball playoffs came to an end Tuesday night for the West Bladen Knights.

Gunnar Tolston and Fred Stewart combined to strike out 14 as No. 3 seed Croatan eliminated No. 22 seed West Bladen 9-4 in the third round of the Class 2-A playoffs.

The loss capped a week which had the Knights travel nearly 900 miles to play their three games. West Bladen opened the playoffs with a 2-0 win May 13 at No. 11 seed Ayden-Grifton (a 221 mile round trip), then upended No. 6 seed Edenton Holmes 2-1 on Saturday at Historic Hicks Field (a 424 mile round trip) before losing to the Cougars on Tuesday (a 243 mile round trip).

West Bladen ended its season with a 12-9 record. Croatan improved to 18-2 and will play at No. 2 seed South Granville on Friday in the Eastern semifinals. Fairmont will play at defending state champion Midway in the other semifinal.

Tolston, a left-hander, and Stewart, a right-hander, proved to be more than the West Bladen batters could handle. Tolston, who pitched the first five innings, had a stretch where he struck out six consecutive batters. He finished with 10 strikeouts, walked five, gave up four hits and four runs, three of which were earned. Stewart struck out the side in the sixth and another batter in the seventh in pitching two scoreless and hitless innings.

Last week, Tolston struck out 14 and pitched a one-hitter as Croatan eliminated East Bladen 10-2 in a first-round game of the state playoffs.

Trevor Lesane led West Bladen at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a triple, a run scored and three runs batted in. Troy Edge was 1-for-3 with a double and run scored. Jeremy Hunt was 1-for-3 with a run scored. Seth Britt scored the other Knights run after a walk in the second inning.

Hunt, who pitched a complete game shutout at Ayden-Grifton and allowed only a hit and a run in three innings against Edenton Holmes, was hit hard by Croatan in two innings plus three batters of work. He gave up seven runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout. Trent West, who pitched four scoreless innings in a relief and hit the game-winning home run at Holmes, allowed two runs on three hits, walked six and struck out six.

The West Bladen defense did not make an error in Tuesday’s contest.

Jeremy White led the 10-hit Croatan attack, going 2-for-3 with a double and a towering home run to left field in the third inning. Stewart was 3-for-4 with a triple and 2 RBIs.

West Bladen struck first in the top of the first inning. Lesane reached on a one-out walk, stole second, advanced to third on Colby McLean’s ground out, and scored when West reached on an error by the Croatan second baseman, the lone error by either team in the game.

However, Croatan countered with four runs in the bottom of the first and were never headed. The Cougars used a single by Tolston, a RBI-double by White, a walk, a two-run triple by Stewart, and a sacrifice fly by Carl Bradshaw to score their runs.

West Bladen pulled within 4-3 in the second inning. Edge opened with a ground rule double to center. After an out, Britt and Hunt walked to load the bases. Lesane followed with a ground ball single to left that scored Edge and Britt..

Croatan broke it open in the third inning, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring five runs to take a 9-3 advantage. White started it with his home run and Bailey Van Nosdall capped it with a two-run single.

West Bladen scored the game’s final run in the fourth when Hunt had a two-out single and scored on Lesane’s triple into the right field corner. From that point, the Knights had only two base-runners, both on walks, for the rest of the game.

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