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Trojans win opener in baseball playoffs

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Will play on Tuesday at Wilson Hunt

By Michael Paul, Sports Editor

 The West Brunswick baseball team beat South Johnston 5-2 Friday in Shallotte in a first round game of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 3A state playoffs.

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Starter Ryan Caison struck out seven batters in four-plus innings and Landon Tilley struck out eight in three innings.

“We rolled the dice tonight,” West coach Mike Alderson said. “Landon usually pitches on Friday, and I made a decision to go with Ryan tonight to see how far he could get us. He got us into the fifth, and that was great. Ryan did good and Landon came in and slammed the door.

“We looked at their stats and we knew they couldn’t hit the breaking ball. So we threw a heavy dose of breaking balls tonight.”

Caison was charged with the two runs—which scored in the fifth after West botched a rundown, leaving runners on third and second. A single to center cut the lead to 4-2. Tilley entered the game and was unhittable. He walked one batter. Caison finished with two walks and a hit batter. He gave up six hits.

The error in the fourth was one of four by West for the game. Alderson said he was worried about how well the team would play after a 10-day layoff.

“We hadn’t been in  pressure situations lately,” he said. “That was my biggest concern. The four errors, that was probably from the 10-day layoff.”

West showed how it can take advantage of a foe’s mistakes, scoring four runs in the fourth, an inning in which South Johnston made three errors.

Erick Hill led off and was safe on an error by the third baseman. He scored on a triple to right field by Markel Jones.

Chandler Taylor was safe on an infield single—he chopped at the ball and the effect was a swinging bunt. When Hunter Howard bunted, South Johnston tried to get Jones out at home, but the throw was wild and Jones scored.

Khalil Gause hit a grounder toward the shortstop, but he was unable to field the ball and it rolled into left center field. Two runs scored on the error, giving West a 4-0 lead.

“We’ve been working all week on putting pressure on the defense—bunts, running bunts, hit and run,” Alderson said.

Two missed bunts aggravated him.

“It didn’t look like we worked on bunts,” he said. “Couldn’t get two of them down tonight.”

West scored its other run in the fifth on a two-out single by Gause. Hill led off with a single. Jones walked. Each advanced a base on Taylor’s groundout and then Gause drove in Hill.

South Johnston finishes 16-9. Alderson was relieved to win this first-round game.

“The big boys are playing the big boys in the first few rounds,” he said, “and they’re just knocking each other off. They have a good club.”

West’s starter Tuesday probably will be Tilley, Alderson said.

“He threw 54 pitches and he has (three days) to rest,” he said. “I’m not saying he’ll go out there and throw 90 pitches, but our bullpen is going to be (the difference) if we go farther than the second round.”

West, co-champion of the Waccamaw Conference and 18-4 overall, will play a second-round game on Tuesday at Wilson Hunt (14-8). Third-round games are set for Friday.

How far West will go in the playoffs remains to be seen. But Alderson, who coached West to a state title in 2004, knows the formula.

“To make run deep in the playoffs, everybody has to have some pitching and talent,” he said. “The ’04 squad, we had pitching and we had hitting in the first five (spots). But you have to have a bunch of luck, and swinging bunts are luck. You gotta have luck somewhere down the line.

“We just got on a roll (in 2004). Hopefully, this crowd here can do the same thing. You get good pitching, good defense, put the ball in play, make things happen, put pressure on the defense—you’re gonna have a chance to win all your ballgames.”