CHAPEL HILL — East Chapel Hill once again qualified for the state baseball playoffs this spring, but that just left the Wildcats wanting more after they lost in the first round to Raleigh Leesville Road.
“Unless you win the state championship, everyone has to end their season with a loss,” East Chapel Hill Coach Phil Woodell told his players after a 3-0 loss Wednesday to the Pride. “We won 15 games, and that doesn’t happen every year. But when you get to the playoffs, you keep wanting a little more.”
East Chapel Hill (15-8) had gone into the N.C. High School Athletics Association 4A tournament with some confidence. Midway into the season, the Wildcats were 11-3 and riding a 7-game win streak.
“We were really rolling at one point,” East senior pitcher and infielder John Page said. “We ran out of steam some near the end, but it was still a good year.”
The Wildcats ran afoul last Wednesday of a Leesville Road junior who didn’t even know he was going to start until shortly before game time.
Leesville Road right-hander Ryan Sande found near-perfect was more than good enough as his first career no-hitter keyed the Pride’s shutout win at East Chapel Hill.
“He’s been one of our top guys all year,” Leesville Road coach Guy Civitello said. “We knew he could get the ball over the plate. That’s all we asked him to do, and he was great.”
Will Stephens, Dillon Cooper and Jack Conley opened the game with three consecutive hits – Cooper and Conley each knocking RBI doubles into center – to give Leesville Road (17-5) all the scoring it needed. Sande’s sacrifice fly into right field drove in Conley with an insurance run and a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
Sande (4-1) bedeviled East Chapel Hill with an effective mix of breaking balls for 10 strikeouts – six batters left looking – over a complete seven innings. Only two Wildcats made it to first: third baseman Sean Moore, after a first-inning pitch glanced off his forearm, and shortstop Connor Stough, who drew a seventh-inning walk.
“I felt really good from the start,” Sande said. “My curve ball and my change-up were feeling good, but I was able to throw my fast ball pretty hard, so that was good today, too.
Civitello said getting a complete game in just 95 pitches (62 of them strikes) from Sande “was huge,” given the short turn-around facing the Pride before a Friday game with Apex.
“We couldn’t play Tuesday, so here we are playing today with a game Friday,” Civitello said. “We didn’t have to go to our bullpen at all, so we’ve got the whole staff available going into our next game … except Ryan. That’s really big.”
CHHS out, Orange plays on in tournament
Last week in the NCHSAA 3A baseball tournament, Chapel Hill was bumped out by Mid-State Conference tournament champion Rockingham by a 13-6 score, but Big Eight champion Orange was still alive.
Playing in just their seventh game of the year at home, the Panthers scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and made it stand up for a 3-1 win over Mid-State No. 5 seed Northeast Guilford. A Collin Pope single and a double by Brad Debo were followed by a two-RBI double by Bryse Wilson. A sacrifice fly by Josh Kiehle ended the scoring.
Jordan Toney (7-1) scattered three hits and struck out 10 Rams over a complete seven innings to earn the win on the mound.
Orange (21-4) took on yet another Mid-State team, No. 4 seeded Northern Guilford (17-10), and were upset 4-3 Saturday night in a second-round game. See orangepanthersbaseball.com or Wednesday's Chapel Hill News for more.