A big home run off the bat of Butler’s biggest player set the tone for a mammoth fifth inning and the Bulldogs ended East Forsyth’s season Friday night with an 8-4 victory in the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs.
Jalen Cousar, a 5-foot-11, 260-pounder better known as a football player, lined an opposite-field home run over the right field fence to lead off the fifth, and his teammates backed him by putting up five more runs, batting around before the inning ended.
The home run, Butler’s second of the game, was one less than light-hitting East Forsyth hit all season, and the Eagles couldn’t make up the difference.
Butler (20-6-1) will play Mecklenburg County rival Providence (27-3) in a best-of 3 series next week with the winner moving to the state championship series.
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East Forsyth starter Matthew Hailey was pulled after Cousar’s home run, and before the top of the fifth inning ended, East Forsyth had its fourth pitcher.
“We have talked about that, if we could score a few runs, their coach said there wasn’t much hitting in the whole conference,” Butler coach Rick Sambrotto said. “We knew we had seen some good pitching. So we tried to be patient, and we knew even if they got ahead they probably wouldn’t pull away from us too quickly.”
East Forsyth trailed 3-2 when Rob Rodgers came in to relieve Hailey and faced only four batters – walking two and allowing a base hit. Jamie May relieved Rodgers and allowed four hits and a walk before Landon Mitchell finished.
“We went out there and we made an error, that run scored, and we walked two batters and those runs scored,” East Forsyth coach Jim Hyatt said of Butler’s six-run fifth. “And that’s the difference in the ball game. Walks and errors scored and that’s just something we haven’t had lately. The error should have been caught and the walks shouldn’t have been done.
“We didn’t lose to a bad team; we had a bad inning. Outside of that it’s a game we could probably win. So that ends your season. Disappointing night, but not a disappointing season.”
East Forsyth (24-5) took a 2-0 lead in the first but Butler tied it in the fourth inning on Jarrett Norman’s solo home run and Tate Pennington’s RBI double.
“He’s a football player that plays baseball but he’s really athletic and very competitive,” Sambrotto said of Cousar. “I actually turned away because I was looking for a pinch-runner in case he got on, and I just heard it. Then I looked back and there it was. I didn’t need a pinch-runner.
“We have hit five or six (home runs) since the playoffs started and I think we are in the mid-20’s and that’s a lot for us.”
Kameron Stinson, a big junior right hander for Butler, fought through some trouble in the first two innings but settled in to get the win.
The Bulldogs will face a Providence team that rallied in the seventh inning to beat North Davidson 8-3 on Friday.
“To be honest they shouldn’t lose, right?” Sambrotto said. “They have five or six Division I players but as long as no one pinches our guys and wakes them up, we’ll go over there next Tuesday or whenever and be ready to play.”