Six-run inning dooms Riverside
Riverside’s championship season came to a disappointing end Tuesday as Green Hope snapped a 3-3 tie with a six-run sixth inning and downed the homestanding Pirates 10-3 in the second round of the state 4-A baseball playoffs.
In other second-round playoff games involving area teams Tuesday night, Orange (23-2) defeated Northern Guilford 6-4 in 3-A, Carrboro (13-12) beat Tarboro 8-0 and Northwood (21-5) beat Corinth Holders 8-6 both in 2-A, and in 1-A Voyager Academy (19-4) beat Camden 5-3 and Roxboro Community (13-10) beat Gates County 15-0.
Riverside (17-8), the PAC-6 champion, picked up right where it had left off in Friday’s 4-1 first-round playoff win over Wake Forest Heritage. As he did Friday night, catcher Jake Kusz slammed a solo home run in his first at-bat to give Riverside a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
Rightfielder Micah Goodwin led off the second with another solo blast, this one off the face of the scoreboard behind the left-centerfield fence. Starting pitcher Blake Morgan followed the homer with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Green Hope counterpart Andrew Weygandt with none out.
But Morgan was stranded at third as Weygandt retired the side with a pair of strikeouts and an infield fly.
Still, the 2-0 lead looked solid, what with ace lefthander Morgan (8-2) on the mound for Riverside and facing the minimum nine batters over the first three innings. Morgan did give up a pair of singles in that span, but Kusz threw behind each of those runners and caught them napping on pickoffs at first base.
The Falcons (21-5) finally got to Morgan in the top of the fourth, stacking a double and a pair of singles behind a one-out walk. Shortstop Stephen Pitarra’s two-run single tied the score and he eventually scored the go-ahead run on an infield single by Chris Tutwiler. Riverside second baseman Bub Deluca made a diving grab on the play to keep another run from scoring.
Meanwhile, Green Hope pulled Weygandt after two innings and replaced him with hard-throwing righthander Luca Scelsi (7-2). Scelsi pitched five scoreless innings, getting in trouble only in the bottom of the fifth when his control deserted him and three walks and an RBI sacrifice fly by Deluca tied the game at 3.
“That relief pitcher came in and threw strikes,” Riverside coach Doug Simmons said. “He had trouble commanding his curve ball, just like Blake did, but he threw hard.”
Morgan, who had appeared to settle down with a 1-2-3 fifth inning, had trouble retiring anyone in the top of the sixth. Pitarra, who went 4-for-4 with four RBI, led off with an infield single and came home on Vincent Addona’s one-out, two-run home run to center for a 5-3 lead. Morgan then gave up a single and a two-out walk and looked like he might get away without any further damage, but gave up an RBI single to make it 6-3.
“Morgan had trouble with his mechanics throwing out of the stretch,” Simmons said. “Out of the windup, his mechanics were fine. But he battled and pitched fine. He’s been one of my go-to guys all year.”
Simmons thought Riverside’s biggest issues were at the plate, pointing to the second inning when Morgan was stranded at third with none out and when Riverside failed to take the lead after tying it in the third and leaving runners at second and third with two outs.
“They got the big hits in the spots that they needed them and we didn’t,” Simmons said.
Kory Behenna came on in relief with two on and two out, but gave up three straight singles including Pitarra’s two-run hit as Green Hope batted around for a second time and made it 9-3.
Green Hope tacked on a final run in the top of the seventh when Behenna dropped a pop-up between home and first just on the fair side of the foul line with two outs, allowing a runner to score from third.
NOTES — Simmons looked back on his first year on the Riverside bench with appreciation for the Pirates’ efforts. “We felt like we had a team that could compete and we did — we won the (PAC-6) championship,” Simmons said. “We were 3-4 to start the year but we developed and got better all around and went on a roll for a while there.”
Green Hope 10, Riverside 3
Green Hope |000 |306 |1 — 10 |13 |1
Riverside |110 |010 |0 — 3 |3 |3
Andrew Weygandt, Luca Scelsi (3rd) and Thomas Yoder; Blake Morgan, Kory Behenna (6th) and Jake Kusz. W— Scelsi (7-2), L—Morgan (8-2). Leading hitters — Green Hope Stephen Pitarra 4-4 (4 RBI), Vincent Addona 1-2 (HR, 2 RBI), Smith Prevost 2-3, Yoder 2-3 (2B, RBI); Riverside, Kusz 1-1 (HR, RBI), Micah Goodwin 1-2 (HR, RBI), Morgan 1-3.
Records — Green Hope 21-5, Riverside 17-8.