It was an unusual kind of perfection, but perfection nonetheless.
The McDowell Titans (15-8) pounded the Asheville Trailblazers (home-schooled) 12-0 in five innings Thursday night at Titan Field to finish the regular season unbeaten in non-conference play for perhaps the first time in school history.
McDowell, who went 6-8 in Northwestern 3A/4A Conference play, was a perfect 9-0 outside the league. Five of the non-league victories have come during a run that has seen the Titans win 13 of their last 17 games.
“I feel like we’ve done everything in our power (to make the State 4A Playoffs) except win the conference,” said McDowell head coach Alex Smith, whose team has been angling for an at-large playoff selection. “As far as winning baseball games and playing as well as we could play, there are only a couple of games on our schedule I felt like we let slip away.
“If 15-8 isn’t enough to get us in, so be it. I don’t have a single regret about the way we played. It’s been a pleasure to work with these guys.”
It was certainly enjoyable Thursday night.
McDowell scored three runs in the first inning and four more in the second to remove the suspense early.
Starter Juan Campos (5-3) motored right along, giving up just one hit in four innings of work. He struck out eight and walked only one. Justin Dula pitched a scoreless fifth, striking out three of the four batters he faced.
Offense wasn’t a problem, either, with the Titans’ first five hitters forming a veritable murderer’s row.
Leadoff hitter Josh Maddux went 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, an RBI and two runs scored. Behind him, Ethan Hamm went 2-for-2 with a double, two RBIs, two runs scored and a walk; Brycen Seymore was 1-for-3 with a double, and RBI and two runs scored; cleanup hitter Gage Gentry was 2-for-2; Justin Dula went 1-for-2 with a home run, two RBIs and a walk.
Dula’s homer was the big blow in the Titans’ three-run first.
Maddux led off with a double to left and scored on an RBI single by Hamm. Hamm was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, and Seymore flied to center for the second out.
But Gentry followed with a base hit to center, and Dula connected with his two-run shot over the center-field fence off Trailblazers starter Tucker Smith (2IP, 7R, 3ER, 7H, 1K) to make it 3-0.
All four of the Titans’ second-inning runs came with two gone.
Maddux blasted a triple to deep center field to plate Three Young, who had reached on one of three Trailblazer errors in the frame. Hamm drove in Maddux with a double to make it 5-0. Seymore’s pop-up to second was dropped, and Hamm scored for a 6-0 lead. Gentry singled, and another error allowed Seymore to cross the plate and make it 7-0.
Two more Asheville errors led to runs by Young and Cyrus Black (RBI, BB, SB) in the bottom of the fourth.
Three runs in the bottom of the fourth gave the Titans a chance to end the game early via the mercy rule.
Hamm led off with a walk and scored on Seymore’s double to left. Seymore went to third and then scored on a pair of wild pitches to make it 11-0.
Campos, in only his second at bat of the season, drew a base on balls before giving way to pinch-runner Justin Davis. Dula and Ethan Davis also walked to load the bases, and Black drove in a run with a ground-out.
That was it for the McDowell rally, but it hardly mattered as the Trailblazers went quietly in the top of the fifth against Dula.
Leadoff hitter Cody Ray went 1-for-2 and had Asheville’s (6-13) only hit.
Thursday’s game marked the final regular-season home game for seniors Campos, Maddux, Seymore and Kell Smith, the Titans’ all-conference catcher who missed the entire season with a shoulder injury.
Coach Smith said the group has consistently set a positive example for the team’s younger players.
“They’re a special group,” said Smith. “It’s been the way they’ve handled themselves as students and as members of a team. When we are doing drill work, they’re spending time with the freshmen and sophomores and giving them tips and helping them. Even though he hasn’t gotten to play a single game, Kell has been with the catchers every day. There has never been a day where these seniors have separated themselves and felt they were older and better than the younger guys. Instead, they’ve nurtured them, and that’s been fun to watch and be a part of.
“The last several years, things have not always been that way. But this group has helped create a culture in just a few years that has really helped the baseball team. And man, did they play great this year. They’ve been as consistent as they could be.”
The Titans will be the fifth seed in next week’s NWC tournament. McDowell is on the road at fourth-seeded Freedom Tuesday at 6:30. The Patriots edged the Titans 5-4 in eight innings Apr. 17.
McDowell 16, Trailblazers 8 (jayvees) – Ben Barnes had a monster day at the plate to lead the Titans to a convincing win in their season finale.
Barnes went 3-for-4 with a home run, a triple, three runs scored and seven RBIs. He drove in at least one run every inning. Barnes had an RBI triple in the first; an RBI ground-out in the second; a two-run base hit in the third; and a three-run bomb in the fourth.
Logan Duncan went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Michael Lewis (1-4, double, 2RBIs, SB), Cole Weaver (1-3, RBI) and Mason Lamb (1-2, SB) had a hit apiece for the Titans.
Ty Smith got the win on the mound, giving up five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two. Caleb Jimison (2 1/3 IP, 3R, 3H, 3K) finished up for the Titans.
McDowell finishes the season 12-7-2, winning its last five games.