Stone, Sykes combine to lift Voyager
Junior righthander Loy “Bubba” Stone used his bat to overcome a struggle on the mound Friday, driving in three runs on three hits as Voyager Academy advanced to the fourth round of the state 1-A baseball playoffs.
The Vikings got past Roxboro Community 5-2, coming back from a 2-0 deficit early and holding off a late comeback try by the Bulldogs at Southern High School.
Voyager (20-4) will host Williamston Riverside at Southern on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Voyager coach Pete Shankle, who was a longtime coach at Southern, was playing on a field named in his honor and at the school where his jersey is retired.
But it was the character that his stars displayed Friday night that impressed him the most.
Stone, Voyager’s 2012 ace who led the team to the state championship series in its first year as a varsity program, is battling arm trouble and clearly was not dominant. In fact, he probably has fallen behind fellow righthander Chad Sykes in the “ace” race this season.
Stone had problems with his control, tending to be wild high on both his fastball and breaking pitches, and actually fell behind in the third on Jarren Winstead’s two-out, two-run double down the first-base line and into the rightfield corner. That scored Cody Morast, who had singled leading off, and Tanner Powell, reached base on an error.
But Stone (8-2) would give up only four hits and those two runs before being replaced by Sykes in the fifth.
“Bubba gutted it up for us tonight,” Shankle said. “He’s got a little bit of a sore arm, but we’ve had it looked at and it’s nothing serious. He fought through it.”
At the plate, Stone was as good as it gets. His 3-for-3 night included a leadoff double in the second, a two-out, two-run triple in the fifth that knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs in what was a 2-1 game, and a run-scoring single in the fifth for Voyager’s final run.
“We got some big hits when it counted,” Shankle said.
When Stone ran out of gas, walking back-to-back batters with one down in the sixth, Sykes moved to the mound from second base and dominated. He struck out Morast and Powell, each the potential tying run, then retired the Bulldogs 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh to pick up the save, bookending strikeouts of Travis Hodgin and Jarren Winstead around an easy groundout by Collin Winstead.
Shankle was amazed at the composure Sykes showed, since he took the mound moments after capping an 0-for-4 night at the plate by striking out.
“Chad just closed the door on them,” Shankle said. “After striking out like he did, to come out there and do what he did just shows the character of the kid — just tremendous.”
Only one of Voyager Academy’s runs — four off starter and loser Gray Peterson (3-4) and one off reliever Jarren Winstead — was earned, Roxboro Community (13-11) being hurt by a pair of errors and a couple of wild pitches.
RCS coach Pete Tuck, a former Roxboro Person coach who doubles as RCS athletic director, choked up when talking about his second-year varsity program’s improvement this season, particularly after losing a 2-0 game to Voyager late in the regular season before Friday’s tight loss.
“The errors, and the four uneared runs, were basically the story of the game,” Tuck said. “But right now, looking at where we’ve come from, I’m so proud of these boys that I just can’t see straight.”
NOTES — Voyager and RCS, both charter schools, also are Carolina 12 1A/2A Conference rivals. ... Jarren Winstead was 2-for-3 with two RBI to lead RCS at the plate. ... Hunter Coates doubled and was hit by a pitch in three appearances for Voyager. John Sanders and Kiki Kornegay each had an infield hit for the Vikings. ... Sykes’ four-strikeout, five-out save was his first of the season.
Voyager 5, RCS 2
Gray Peterson, Jarren Winstead (5), Samuel Whitt (6) and Tanner Powell; Loy Stone, Chad Sykes (6) and Hunter Coates. W—Stone (8-2). L—Peterson (3-4). Save—Sykes (1). Leading hitters—Roxboro Community, Jarren Winstead 2-3 (2B, 2 RBI); Voyager, Loy Stone 3-3 (2B, 3B, 3 RBI).
Records—Roxboro Community 13-11, Voyager 20-4.