High School Sports

Knight Time: Ardrey Kell baseball advances to NCHSAA state final series

Ardrey Kell's baseball team, seen here in a 2017 playoff game, won the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game Thursday night.
Ardrey Kell's baseball team, seen here in a 2017 playoff game, won the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game Thursday night. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Ardrey Kell High baseball coach Hal Bagwell has said all season that the 2018 Knights are one of the most resilient teams he has ever coached.

The Knights, expected in preseason to be a top team in the state, didn't panic when they started the season 0-2. And they again showed that same resiliency Thursday night in Game 2 of the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship.

Ardrey Kell rallied from a five-run deficit to beat East Forsyth 7-6 in eight innings. The Knights (26-5) advanced to their third state championship series in 10 years..

"This is my fifth state championship appearance," said Bagwell, who twice took South Mecklenburg to the championship round. "And this team is unbelievable. To get down like we were with the biggest crowd in the history of the school, and to chip away and win like that? That tells you everything you need to know."

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Ardrey Kell, which won the first game of the series 8-1 at East Forsyth Tuesday, got down 3-0 in the first inning and 6-1 after the fourth. The Knights tied the game with a five-run explosion in the bottom of the fourth inning.

In the top of the seventh, the final regulation inning, East Forsyth got runners on second and third base with one out.

That's when Bagwell took the biggest gamble of the season.

He decided to walk what he felt was a dangerous batter, loading the bases. Any score at this point would've been devastating.

"I put on a hitter and walked the bases loaded and got around hitter I didn't want," Bagwell said. "And they hit into a double play. That's living right, and that's what my instincts told me, man."

After East Forsyth came up empty in the top of the eighth inning, Ardrey Kell got runners on first and second base in its at-bat.

Trey Tujetsch -- who pitched 6.1 innings on 10-strikeout ball as the starter pitcher -- hit a fly ball that was misplayed by an East Forsyth outfielder. That allowed Jack Scott to score the game-winning run.

Parker Ledford, Vasilios Kaloudis and Woodson Alexander each had two hits for the Knights. Garrett Sullivan pitched 1.2 innings of relief. He struck out three and helped induce the big bases-loaded double play.

Sullivan and Ardrey Kell will face the Eastern 4A champion, either Fuquay-Varina or Apex, for the state championship next week. Apex beat Fuquay-Varina 2-0 Thursday night to even their series at 1-1 and force a third game Friday night.

It will be Ardrey Kell’s first appearance in the state championships since the Knights got there in back-to-back seasons in 2008 and 2009. They lost to Greenville Rose in 2008 but beat Raleigh Sanderson for the 4A crown a year later.

This year’s team didn’t win either its regular-season or tournament conference championship. The Knights finished second to Providence in the SoMeck 7 4A’s regular season and fell to third-place South Mecklenburg in the tournament semifinals.

But coach Bagwell’s team has caught fire in the state playoffs. And now Bagwell will get a shot at winning his second career state title.

"These guys have just been on a tear, man," Bagwell said. "This team is unbelievable."

4A softball: S. Caldwell sweeps

Host South Caldwell rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and won a wild 10-9 decision over Richmond Senior, sweeping the 4A Western Regional girls’ softball championship in two games.

The Spartans will face either Fayetteville Jack Britt or Winterville South Central in next week’s state championship series. Britt leads the Eastern Regional one game to none, with Game 2 set for Friday night.

South Caldwell will be among two Northwestern 3A-4A Conference teams playing for state softball titles, as Alexander Central won the 3A Western Regional on Thursday night.

The Spartans (28-2) jumped in front Thursday night, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning on Anna King’s three-run homer. But the Raiders (24-5), whose 13-game winning streak was snapped by South Caldwell at home Wednesday night, rallied in the third inning when Taylor Parrish cracked a grand slam. Richmond padded its lead to 5-3 with a run in the fourth.

Reagan Weisner homered for South Caldwell in the bottom of the fifth, cutting the deficit to 5-4 and setting the stage for a wild sixth inning.

Richmond Senior opened the sixth with four runs for a 9-4 lead. They scored on a Greyson Way RBI single, an RBI single by Kayla Hawkins, a wild pitch that sent Way home, and an RBI single by Parrish.

But South Caldwell came back with six runs in the bottom of the sixth. Graclyn Green, who hit a game-winning home run Monday night in the regional semifinals, slammed a two-run double that cut Richmond’s lead to 9-8, and freshman Addison Blair followed with a two-run double that put the Spartans on top.

3A softball: Alexander advances

Alexander Central, which has won more girls’ softball state championships than any other school, will have a chance to pad its total next week. The Cougars (26-5) scored 10 runs in the seventh inning and crushed host China Grove Jesse Carson 2-8 Thursday night.

That completed a two-game sweep for Alexander Central, which last won a state championship in 2014. The Cougars will face either Clayton Cleveland or Western Alamance for the title. Cleveland leads that series one game to none, with Game 2 Friday.

Rightfielder Kelsea Dejarnette was the standout Thursday, going 4-for-5, with two home runs and six RBIs. Teammates Lanie Goforth and Julie Gast also hit homers, and Gast finished with five hits. Alexis Walter had four hits for the victors.

Jesse Carson (20-8) got a two-run, pinch-hit homer from Sierra Ratliff and a solo shot by Kaitlyn Honeycutt. Honecutt and Kary Hales each finished with two hits.

2A baseball: North Lincoln ousted

North Lincoln’s season ended Thursday night with a 2-0 loss to Ledford in the 2A Western Regional baseball championship series. Cameron Mills had a role in both Ledford runs, scoring in the first inning after hitting a single, and then driving in Avery Cain with a triple in the sixth.

Ledford (28-3) will face either Whiteville or North Lenoir for the state title. Whiteville leads the 2A Eastern series one game to none, with Game 2 Friday.

North Lincoln (25-4) threatened twice. The Knights had runners on first and third in the top of the fourth, but Ledford pitcher Logan Whitaker struck out a North Lincoln batter to end the threat.

In the seventh, Tyler Lilly was hit by a Whitaker pitch, and Jake Soorus hit a two-out single that sent Lilly to third. But once again, Whitaker ended the threat – and the game – with a strikeout.

2A softball: Bunker Hill falls

Franklin, which suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Claremont Bunker Hill on Tuesday night, evened the 2A Western Regional girls’ softball series with an 8-4 road victory Thursday.

The teams will play the final game of the series Saturday evening at Franklin.

The Panthers (23-1) got a two-run double by Lillie Pennington and led 4-0 after a half-inning, but Bunker Hill (17-7) rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning. Franklin scored two more times in the top of the fourth for a 6-3 lead and pulled away.

Paige Norton hit a home run and drove in three runs for Franklin.

1A baseball: Lincoln Charter survives

Ryan Restino’s shutout pitching lifted Lincoln Charter to a 2-0 victory over previously undefeated Murphy on Thursday night, evening the 1A Western Regional series at 1-1. The final game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday in Murphy.

Playing at Moor Park in Mooresville, Lincoln Charter (22-6) broke on top in the first inning when Spencer Bright’s single scored Zach Horton. The Knights added a run in the fifth inning on an error.

Murphy (26-1) loaded the bases in the top of the second, but Restino pitched out of the jam.

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