The McDowell Titans saw a chance to squeeze in a baseball game they thought was lost to a previous postponement, and they made the most of that opportunity.
Sophomore Cyrus Black’s pinch-hit, RBI single in the top of the ninth helped give the Titans a 6-5 non-conference win over the R-S Central Hilltoppers Friday in Rutherfordton. The NCHSAA endowment game, originally scheduled for Apr. 11, initially fell victim to a rescheduling of conference games that had been postponed earlier in the season.
The win left the Titans with a 16-9 record, including a 10-0 mark in non-league games. McDowell is the 20th seed in the west in the State 4A Playoffs, and will play at 13th-seeded Porter Ridge (13-10) Tuesday at 5 p.m. The winner advances to the second round Friday at fourth-seeded South Caldwell, the NWC champions.
McDowell led Friday’s game 5-3 until the bottom of the fifth, when the Hilltoppers scored twice to tie it at 5-5.
The score stayed that way until the top of the ninth. Gage Gentry (3-4, 3R) reached on a one-out single to left and advanced to second on a passed ball. Justin Dula (2-5, triple, RBI, SB, 2R) moved Gentry up 90 feet on a ground-out. Kell Smith walked to put runners at the corners, but there were two gone in the inning.
But Black (1-1, RBI) came through in the clutch, singling to right to plate Gentry with the go-ahead run.
Dula, who picked up his first win of the season in relief, took it from there, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth (Central got one man aboard via an error) to seal the win. Dula worked three innings, allowing one hit. He struck six and walked one, throwing strikes on 33 of his 44 pitches.
R-S Central scored twice off Titans starter Chapel Matson (3IP, 3R, 5H, 3K, 2BB) in the bottom of the first to take an early lead, but McDowell answered with three runs in the top of the third.
Gentry and Dula both singled to start the inning. Designated hitter Kell Smith – getting his first action of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason – followed with a base hit up the middle that scored Gentry. An error in center allowed Dula to score on the play, tying the game at 2-2. Smith (1-3, 2RBIs, 2BB), who took third on the miscue, came home on a ground-out by Ethan Davis (RBI) to give the Titans a 3-2 edge.
Central knotted the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the third, but again, McDowell answered in its next at bat.
Gentry started the rally again with a leadoff infield single. Dula followed with a triple to left to make it 4-3. Dula scored on Smith’s ground-out to second, and McDowell led 5-3.
A two-out error by the Titans in the bottom of the fifth opened the door for Central to draw even for one last time and set the stage for Black’s eventual heroics.
Brycen Seymore (double, BB) went 2-for-4 for the Titans. Josh Maddux (1-5) and Three Young (1-5) got the other two hits for McDowell.
Maddux, in his first pitching appearance of the season, worked the middle three innings for the Titans, allowing two runs – neither of them earned – on three hits. He struck out one and walked two.
Jacob Champion took the loss in relief despite pitching well for the Hilltoppers. He gave up an unearned run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking four.
Leadoff hitter Kael Snethen went 2-for-5 to lead Central.
The Titans will have both their top two pitching options available for Porter Ridge in seniors Juan Campos (5-3, 1.91 ERA) and Seymore (5-3, 3.15 ERA).