North Myrtle Beach baseball coach B.A. Alderson didn’t need a lot of convincing to keep starting pitcher Austin Long on the mound in the final inning Monday night, with a Game 1 victory in the 4A state title series on the line.
Leading by just two runs, Alderson said he contemplated going to the bullpen for the final three outs as the Chiefs looked to secure a valuable road victory against hosts Catawba Ridge.
“But Austin said he wanted the baseball,” Alderson said. “So, we let him run back out there and finish it off. I said ‘Can you finish it?’ and he said ‘Coach, I’ve got this.’”
Long struck out nine batters in a complete game effort, Luke Roupe smacked a three-run home run, and Chance Hall sealed the deal with smart base running to help North Myrtle Beach secure a 5-3 win over Catawba Ridge in Game 1 of the best-of-three state title series Monday evening.
With the win, the visiting Chiefs, now 28-5 on the season, earned a 1-0 series lead heading into a pivotal Game 2, which will be played at North Myrtle Beach on Wednesday.
Both teams are chasing their first baseball state title in school history.
Long was efficient all night long, striking out nine Copperhead batters and allowing just two walks and four hits in seven full innings of play.
“He’s Mr. Consistent,” Alderson said. “He did what he’s done for us all year long.”
After two scoreless innings, Roupe smacked a homer deep to center-left field in the top of the third inning to score Chance Hall and Sawyer Smith. Chase Sturgeon extended the North Myrtle Beach lead in the next inning to 4-0 when his single to deep center helped Mason Cox back to home plate from second.
Catawba Ridge, which fell to 27-7, fought back in the bottom of the fourth inning. Facing two strikes and two outs, Jake McCoy mashed a long three-run homer to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 4-3.
Jackson Mullen pitched five innings for the Copperheads, finishing with four strikeouts, three walks and five hits allowed. Reliever Caden Glauber finished out the last two innings, earning four strikeouts, allowing one walk, and no hits.
Catawba Ridge head coach Stas Swerdzewski noted that Catawba Ridge left several men on base, especially in the opening few innings.
“We had opportunities early in the game,” he said. “It would have been nice to capitalize on those chances. We didn’t have timely hits. Hopefully we can go to Game 2 and perform better in RBI opportunities.”
Hall made Catawba Ridge pay for some defensive sloppiness. After reaching first base on a walk, Hall initially stole second base on a called third strike, but a wild throw from the catcher allowed Hall to advance to third base. A wild throw back in from the outfield then allowed Hall to sprint to home plate and pad North Myrtle Beach’s lead to 5-3.
Facing the top of the Catawba Ridge order, Long threw three straight strikeouts in the final inning to close the game out and give the Chiefs a precious series lead heading back to Little River.
“It worked out in our favor,” Alderson said. “Tip of the cap to (Catawba Ridge), they’ve got a really good squad. Hopefully we can go back home and have a good game on Wednesday.”
For his part, Swerdzewski says he feels confident in his ballclub.
“We’ve got a deep pitching rotation,” he said. “It’s a three-game series, not one and done. We’ve got our backs against the wall, but this team’s been fighting all year long. We’ll go into Game 2 and work hard to try and take it to Game 3.”
North Myrtle Beach swept South Florence in last week’s Lower State championship series to punch its way to the state title series.
Game 2 will be Wednesday, May 24 at North Myrtle Beach High School. If a third game is needed, it will be played on Saturday, May 27 at a neutral site.