Josh Dotson, also Reynolds’ pitching ace, scores in the West Region series versus Crest. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas – A.C. Reynolds Rockets reached five rounds of 3A baseball playoffs, eliminating cross-town arch-rival T.C. Roberson then putting West top seed Boiling Springs Crest on the ropes with a series-opening victory on the road before falling.
The Chargers (as in a Dodge muscle car) “Dodged” that bullet, to win that best-of-three West regional finals in three games. Crest “brushed” aside the opening 5-1 loss on May 23, to even the series by breaking open a close slugfest to win 10-3 at ACR’s fan-packed J.T. David Field two days later. The Chargers won the series a day after that, with another “Crest pasting” — a 7-0 white-wash, at home in Cleveland County.
This was merely the 20th time in 116 tries since 2004 that a baseball squad in N.C. won a regional series after dropping the opener.
Then in the 3A state series last weekend in Burlington, Crest (23-5) was scrubbed in two straight by 8-4 and 2-1 scores by East top seed Wilmington New Hanover (28-1). Crest was state runner-up for the second year in a row, losing to Northern Guilford in ’17.
New Hanover is the school Roberson beat last year for the state crown in larger 4A, before downsizing to 3A in 2017-18. TCR’s prior state titles were in 1983, 2000 with pitcher Chris Narveson then 2002 early into the Cam Maybin era.
Reynolds (23-5) under manager Bryan Craig nearly reached its first state title series since 1984 (in 3A) and ’87 (in 4A), which were its two best baseball playoff finishes ever. This time the third-seeded Rockets nearly matched the football squad’s feat of making state.
They stunned the favored Chargers on the road in game one, winning 5-1. This was the first loss in’18 for Crest ace Riley Cheek (10-1).
Bryson Patton got hits in all four of his at bats. The 6-foot-2 lefty knocked in the first run in the opening inning, and had another RBI three innings later to break a deadlock for a 2-1 lead.
Andrew McKay, ACR’s swift 6-2 lead-off hitter and base stealer, contributed three hits to spark rallies. Outfielders Patton and McKay combined for more than half (seven of 13) of the ACR hits.
Jordan Pendley pitched brilliantly. The senior gave up a homer to counterpart Cheek, who led off the first, but gave up no more runs after that. He got out of a base-loaded jam in the third, to maintain a 1-all tie. Pendley yielded merely three hits, and struck out six Chargers. Relievers Jalen Crowder then Jimmy Baumstark flossed Crest batters.
Meanwhile, the Rockets broke open the game, as Talon James drove in two insurance runs in the fifth. The strong and swift 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior was a superb defensive end in football, where many other baseball Rockets also excelled in yearly deep playoff runs.
Alex Flinn, the sturdy (6-2, 205) junior star quarterback who led WNC in passing yards, singled in the final run in the 5-1 diamond conquest.
Game two was much higher scoring, and see-sawed with both offenses exploding in early innings. Reynolds trailed 4-0, but rallied with three runs in the bottom of the third. Senior Josh Dotson drilled a sharp liner off the third baseman, to score McKay. Senior Baumstark singled up the middle, to score Dotson and make it 4-3.
But Crest promptly reopened its lead, and poured it on. ACR had another chance to close the gap, in the fifth. Two ducks flew onto right field, delaying the game until Crest outfielders chased them to fly away. Soonafter, ACR loaded the bases which is called having “ducks on the pond.”
Starter Caleb Plummer gave one of several intentional walks to sophomore slugging ACR catcher Cooper Ingle in the fifth, loading the bases. But Plummer plugged the leak, getting the next batter out to end the rally.
Both teams’ colors are green and gold, so their battles looked like scrimmages.
Ace Reynolds starter Josh Dotson, who is committed to the UNC Tar Heels, was 11-0 before taking his first loss in the series finale. The 6-1 right-hander went the distance, and whiffed eight Chargers. A three-run homer in the third was the big hit. Rocket batters could not solve Nick Melton, who allowed merely five hits and lasted into the final frame.
In a spinoff of the old “Drive a Datsun” TV slogan, ACR Rockets were able to “drive a Dotson” deep into playoffs.
The Rockets blasted North Iredell 11-1 and defeated Burns 4-2, SW Guilford 6-2 then Roberson by 2-1.
Tenth seed TCR (17-11) beat Rockingham 3-2, J.M. Robeson in a 15-10 run-fest, then upset second-seeded SE Guilford by 4-1. The Rams had plenty of momentum themselves.
Dotson outdueled Eric Wallington to prevail 2-1 in the marquee local matchup of ACR-TCR, in eight innings at Reynolds May 21. Dotson struck out the side in the first, to set the tone. Both pitchers went at least seven innings, which barring a tie is a complete game.
Dotson also came up big with the bat. He singled to help ACR score a run in the opening frame, for a 1-0 lead. Patton started it with a walk, went to second on Dotson’s single, then scored on the catcher’s throwing error.
The 1-0 lead held until the sixth, when TCR tied the game. Spencer Keehan scored on a close play at the plate on a sacrifice fly from Ty Gossett, the Ram’s own star junior quarterback.
ACR nearly regained the lead in the next inning, but stranded the bases full of Rockets as Wallington struck out Flinn.
The Rams then tried to get ahead, in the top of the eighth/extra inning. Baumstark relieved Dotson, with a Ram on first and one out. His first pitch was hit into a double inning, to squelch the rally and preserve the tie.
In the bottom of the eighth, Baumstark then Jalen Crowder singled with one out to put runners on first and second base.
James, who hounded Gossett and other QBs for years on the gridiron, was the ultimate hero in this Asheville baseball clash. The senior’s double sailed over the Ram right fielder, to drive in the winning run.
Reynolds swept Roberson this season, on its way to trying to provide area fans with back-to-back state baseball titles by Buncombe County squads.