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Trojans reach fourth round in baseball playoffs

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By Michael Paul, Sports Editor

 The West Brunswick baseball team beat Jacksonville 2-1 Friday in Shallotte in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 3A state playoffs.

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West (19-4) got the winning run in the bottom of the seventh. Senior shortstop Cole Josselyn led off with a walk against sophomore Ryan Thompson. Senior second baseman Erick Hill bunted Josselyn to second. Senior center fielder Markel Jones lined the ball toward the second baseman, who was unable to field it. The ball landed in right field. Josselyn slid home with the winning run.

In a previous at-bat, Jones popped up, leaving himself and coach Mike Alderson frustrated.

“He was trying to do too much,” Alderson said. “He gets in that situation. He had a ball up here he tried to hammer out. Popped it up. Yeah, I was upset with him. I told him he was going to get another chance. And he did. I went over there and patted him on the helmet and said, ‘Son just don’t try to do too much. Relax, see the baseball and do what you do.’ I’m proud of him.”

For the third straight game, West’s pitchers controlled the outcome. Starter Ryan Caison gave up two hits and an unearned run (in the fifth). He walked two and struck out three. He pitched 4.2 innings.

In two playoff games, he has given up eight hits and three unearned runs in 8.2 innings.

Landon Tilley closed his third straight game and was the winning pitcher. He gave up one hit in 2.2 scoreless innings. He walked none and struck out three.

In three playoff games, Tilley has given up two hits and no runs in 7.2 innings.

West’s other pitcher in the playoffs, Carson Tew, has given up three hits and no runs in five innings. He was the winning pitcher in the second-round game at Wilson Hunt.

“Round 1,” Alderson said, “I started with No. 2 and finished with No 1. At Wilson Hunt, I started No. 3 and finished with No. 1. And the formula seems to be working. I started No. 2 again tonight, and ended with No. 1 to close it down. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

If so, Tilley is unlikely to be the starter in the fourth-round game Tuesday in Shallotte. The Trojans will face D.H. Conley, 24-2, a team that has scored 28 runs in its three playoff victories.

Against Jacksonville (15-9-1), West scored with two outs in the first against senior Blake Heatherly. Junior designated hitter Chandler Taylor and senior Hunter Howard got hits. Taylor scored on a wild pitch.

West had a runner on base in the second and fourth innings but attempted bunts led to two strikes and eventual outs.

West had a runner on second in the third but Khalil Gause’s hard-hit ball hit Heatherly, who recovered in time to get the out at first.

Jacksonville loaded the bases in the fifth and scored on an infield error. Tilley ended the inning with a strikeout and a pop-up.

West had runners on second and first with one out in the sixth. Cooper Hewett singled to right field but pinch runner Tyler Stanley was tagged out in a collision at home plate.

In the seventh, Josselyn, West’s No. 9 batter, walked, and that set up the winning run.

“That was huge—huge,” Alderson said about the walk. “He’s got some wheels, our No. 9 hitter, and it was huge for him to get on. Great bunt by Erick. Markel blistered one and ate that second baseman up.”

Josselyn ran toward third and slid home with the winning run.

“B.A. said we’re going to make him throw us out again at the plate,” Alderson said, “We were rolling him there.”

The Trojans are one victory from advancing to the East Regional.

“There is pressure on both sides,” Alderson said. “We got seven seniors. They keep their poise. Playing baseball, you can’t get too emotional. You got to keep your wits—80 percent of the game is the 6 inches between the ears, anyway. It comes from reps, reps, reps under pressure situations, and these guys have had plenty of it the last four years.

“That’s what you start practice for in February—to get to this point. Especially the seniors—because every time you tee it up now, it may be your last game—ever. Ever.

“We went to the fourth round last year and got beat 4-3. I (told them), ‘Remember how you all felt in right field after the game last year? Do you all want to feel that way again?’”