Top-seeded Charlotte Christian trailed Metrolina Christian throughout the game, but came through at the very end, scoring two runs in the seventh inning to win 5-4 at home Tuesday in the second round of the NCISAA baseball playoffs.
Josh Hall’s single down the third-base line scored Reece Hampton from second base with the winning run, but fittingly it was Zach McIlroy who ignited the seventh-inning rally.
Metrolina Christian starting pitcher Aaron Stewart stymied the Knights’ offense most of the game, allowing three runs in the second but shutting them out for the next four innings.
Charlotte Christian had a chance to score with runners on the corners in the fifth, but McIlroy missed the signal for a squeeze play, and the Knights ended the inning without any runs.
“We have a philosophy: if you cost us a run, your job is to get us one back,” Charlotte Christian coach Greg Simmons said. “In the fifth inning, McIlroy missed a call, and he felt terrible. When he hit the triple (in the seventh), he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to get it back.’ ”
Sure enough, McIlroy scored the tying run when Hampton hit a single between third base and shortstop, and the Knights won two at-bats later on Hall’s single.
Charlotte Christian starter Jackson Kowar pitched well enough over 42/3 innings to keep the Knights in the game, despite the limited offensive output early. The team didn’t manage many runs, but eight of nine batters got hits, and four batters – McIlroy, Hampton, Nick Owens and Garrett Bradbury – reached base multiple times.
Reliever Xander Gum earned the win, allowing one base runner over 21/3 innings and striking out three.
This wasn’t the first time the Knights needed a comeback to beat the Warriors this year. The teams opened the season against each other, and Charlotte Christian scored three runs in the seventh to beat Metrolina Christian 4-3.
“We’re right back where we started,” Simmons said, “except it’s a little warmer now.”
Charlotte Christian (26-5) will face No. 4 seed Charlotte Country Day at 1 p.m. Friday. The Knights beat the Buccaneers all three times they played this season.
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