By Sonny Jones
ELIZABETHTOWN — Lee Barnes’ two-run single in the fourth inning rallied East Bladen from an early deficit and Evan Pait struck out the side to end the game as the Eagles held off East Duplin 6-5 in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-A baseball playoffs at Russell Priest Field.
The win sends East Bladen (12-10) into the second round against Southeastern Athletic Conference foe Midway (21-2), who is the East’s top seed and defeated Bunn 6-1 on Tuesday. The game will be played at Midway likely Friday. Midway beat the Eagles 1-0 in eight innings and 8-4 during the regular season.
East Duplin ended its season with a 14-9 record and finished tied for third place in the East Central Conference.
Pait entered the game in the third inning in relief of starter Jake Futrell and with East Bladen trailing 3-0. The Panthers had scored twice in the first on a bases loaded walk to Brecken Bowles followed by a single up the middle by Eli Thigpen and added another tally in the third on Bowles’ single to left-center.
Pait retired the next two batters, then held East Duplin scoreless until the sixth as East Bladen built a 6-3 lead.
The Eagles’ first hit came in the bottom of the third inning on a single by Barnes, who advanced to second when Weston Hatcher was hit by a pitch, moved to third when Tyler Johnsn reached on a fielder’s choice and scored when Marlan Davis reached on a fielder’s score.
East Bladen grabbed the lead in the fourth. Pait ripped a double to the fence in left-center. Zamar Lewis reached on a dropped third strike with courtesy runner Na’Toren Corbett moving to third. Corbett later scored on a wild pitch to pull the Eagles within 3-2. Futrell was hit by a pitch and both he and Lewis advanced on a wild pitch. Barnes slapped his two-run single to center that gave East Bladen a 4-3 lead.
The Eagles added two more runs in the fifth, seemingly giving East Bladen a comfortable 6-3 lead that turned into two important tallies.
Davis drew a one-out walk and raced home when Pait ripped another double. Corbett, the courtesy runner for Pait, moved to third when Garrison Tatum reached on a two-out error and scored on Futrell’s single to right.
East Duplin rallied in the sixth. Consecutive doubles by Jackson Hunter and Baines Raynor put runners on second and third. Both scored on a pair of wild pitches by Pait that pulled the Panthers within 6-5. East Duplin’s Chance Marshburn was on third with two outs, but Pait struck out Avery Noble to end the threat.
Pait struck out nine, walked one, gave up four hits and two runs in 4.2 innings to get the win. Futrell yielded three runs on three hits, walked four and struck out three in 2.1 innings.
Raynor, the starter, took the loss for the Panthers. He went 4.1 innings and allowed four runs – one earned – on three hits and struck out five. Jackson Gause pitched 1.2 innings and allowed two runs – one earned – on two hits, struck out four and walked one.
Barnes, who made a diving catch of a line dive to right field in the second inning, was 2-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the East Bladen offense. Pait was 2-for-3 with two doubles and a run driven in. Futrell was 1-for-2 with a RBI.
Bowles led East Duplin at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two runs batted in.
If East Bladen and West Bladen win in the second round, the teams would play a third-round game at East Bladen tentatively on May 16. West Bladen defeated Rocky Point Trask 9-5 on Tuesday in the first round.
East Duplin 201 002 0 — 5-7-1
East Bladen 001 320 x — 6-5-1