With help from above, Gause helps Trojans baseball advance to fourth round

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By Sam Hickman

SHALLOTTE — Garrison Gause strolled to the plate Tuesday, May 16, with his team down to its final two outs against the visitors from Orange High School in the third round of the state high school baseball playoffs.

He knew his West Brunswick team needed a baserunner if it was going to overcome a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The senior catcher resorted to asking for help from his father, who died days before the state playoffs began in early May.

Gause delivered a one-out, game-tying solo blast over the center-field fence to tie the game and the Trojans went on to win, 2-1, in nine innings.

“I knew I needed to get something going because we weren’t hitting this game,” Gause said after his squad’s 2-1 victory that sent the Trojans into a fourth-round contest Friday, May 19, against Topsail. “I looked up to the sky and I was talking to Dad and I asked him, ‘Can you help me out here?’”

Moments later, Gause unleashed a mighty swing on a 2-0 center-cut fastball and sent a line drive over the wall in center field, just over the outstretched arm of Orange center fielder Jaydin Poteat.

“Normally I wouldn’t swing at that pitch,” Gause said. “Coach (Mike Alderson) would crawl my tail for swinging at (a 2-0 pitch) when we needed a base runner. I swung and it just happened. I put a good swing on it and thought maybe it would drop in (for a base hit) and it just kept going.”

Gause’s heroics saved the Trojans’ season, which appeared to be on life support as the Trojans trailed 1-0 entering the final inning.

Before the home run, West had been held to two hits by Orange starting pitcher Derek Lindaman.

After Gause’s game-tying blast, each team went scoreless in the eighth inning before West Brunswick won it in the bottom of the ninth.

Sophomore Hunter Nicoll led off the final frame with a single to left field.

Orange made a pitching change following Nicoll’s single as the Panthers summoned left-hander Brian Werden from the bullpen.

Werden walked Gause, the only batter he faced, which gave the Trojans runners on first and second base with nobody out.

West Brunswick’s Christian Smith was subbed in as a pinch-runner for Nicoll and Orange made another pitching change, this time bringing in right-hander Ryan Puckett.

Like Werder, Puckett struggled to find the strike zone and he issued a five-pitch walk to Dylan Jeffries, loading the bases for freshman Tanner Babson.

Babson was 0-for-3 at the plate heading into the at bat in the ninth inning, but he delivered when it mattered most.

Babson chopped a ground ball over the third baseman’s head and off the shortstop’s glove, scoring Smith from third and sending the standing-room only crowd at Mike Alderson Field into a frenzy as the Trojans punched their ticket to the fourth round.

For the second time in as many games, Nicoll was the only player in the game to register multiple hits. He finished 2-for-4 and his leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth set the stage for the walk-off fireworks.

Gause, Babson and Clay Vansteen each delivered one base hit and senior first baseman Cole Clemmons perfectly executed a pair of sacrifice bunts.

For Orange, Poteat, Joey Berini and Caige Clayton each had a base hit.

Clayton’s RBI single in the top of the first inning scored Berini and gave the Panthers a 1-0 advantage, a lead it would preserve until Gause stepped to the dish in the bottom of the seventh.

Lindaman tossed eight strong innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits. He walked three batters and struck out five before being lifted for a relief pitcher with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Werder and Puckett pitched to three hitters combined and neither was able to record an out.

Trailing 1-0 for nearly the entire game, West Brunswick head coach T.J. Spivey leaned on a message he’s been preaching to his team since offseason workouts.

“Positive thoughts, positive results,” Spivey said, referring to a mantra his team has repeated for the last two weeks. “It kind of felt like one of those games where everything goes against you. Every hard hit ball goes right to the other team. Every bang-bang play goes against you. Ever since the playoffs started, we’ve been focused on staying positive.”

All the positive thinking in the world couldn’t have prepared Spivey for the moment Gause tied the game with one swing of the bat.

“I thought to myself how ironic it would be for a senior who has just experienced a life-changing event to come up big and that’s what Garrison did,” he said. “If you didn’t believe in the good Lord before today, I hope you do now. (The home run) was nothing short of (Gause’s) daddy being right there with him in that moment. I’ve never been more proud of a kid and never been more emotional during a ballgame. Garrison’s coming around third base and I’ve got tears in my eyes. I think of Garrison as one of my sons. He can come live with me any day.”

For one moment in one ball game, the moment was even more important than a West Brunswick victory, Spivey said.

“I’m not happy for me or even West Brunswick right now,” he added. “I’m happy for Garrison Gause.”

Gause’s seventh-inning blast overshadowed a dazzling pitching performance by West Brunswick senior Johnathan Carlyle, who tossed his second complete game of the state playoffs.

Carlyle gave up one earned run in the top of the first and blanked the Panthers the rest of the way.

He yielded only three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out a trio of Orange hitters. The 6-foot-6 right-hander threw 99 pitches, including 72 for strikes, and tossed first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 30 batters he faced.

After surrendering a one-out double in the third inning, Carlyle retired 16 consecutive batters and 19 of the next 20.

“I felt like I got stronger as the game went on,” he said. “I felt my velocity ticked up there in the middle innings. I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but I threw a lot of strikes and I feel like that was the key to my success.”

Spivey praised Carlyle’s ability to re-focus after allowing Orange to score an early run in the first inning.

“He gave up a run and then he got mad,” Spivey said. “He was really good after that.”

Gause may know Carlyle’s pitching prowess better than anyone other than Carlyle himself as the two have been longtime battery mates.

“He gave up that early run and didn’t get down on himself,” Gause said. “He came back after that and just shoved He kept putting up zeros and gave us a chance to get back in it. He was great, but it’s the same thing he’s been doing for two or three years now. He’s just a great pitcher.”

Typically, a complete game, nine-inning performance would be the talk of the locker room after the game, but even Carlyle recognized this night belonged to Gause.

“That’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve had in my entire life,” Carlyle said. “For Garrison, he’s been through a lot lately and the whole team has rallied around him with the loss of his dad. It hit me hard, after the home run. It made us all feel like the Lord was on our side. Choked me up a little bit, honestly.”

Gause thought the center fielder would attempt a leaping catch.

“As soon as I saw it clear the fence, my first thought was, ‘Alright, here we go. This game is tied.’ It was so special. It’s surreal. We made the fourth round last year and to do it again this year is a great experience. Tonight, with my mom, aunt, grandma and crandpa here to support me, it makes it that much more special.”

Following the victory in the third round, the Trojans were three wins away from earning a berth in the state championship series.

“The last two weeks our seniors have finally taken this team over,” Spivey said. “This isn’t about me. It’s not about Coach (Alderson) or Coach (Scott) Evans. It’s about a group of young men who have played baseball together their entire lives bonding together and playing for each other, playing for the name on the front of their jersey and for their best friends. After 20-some games, that message is finally starting to sink in. We’re going to go as far as these seniors lead us. I’m really proud of them for stepping up and becoming really good leaders.”