Hilltoppers hold off North Henderson, 3-2
It wasn’t easy, but the R-S Central Hilltoppers outlasted the North Henderson Knights Thursday night at home with a dramatic 3-2 win that included a play at the plate in the final inning.
“We definitely made it interesting,” Central head coach Chadd Fowler said after the win. “We’ve pulled off some close wins lately but we’re just trying to get better each night out.”
Neither team could do much of anything in the first few innings.
Central starter Conner Daily allowed just two hits in the first three innings and the Hilltoppers had only three hits against the Knights John Barwick.
The Hilltoppers finally found an offensive spark in the bottom half of the fourth inning.
Daily led off for Central with a walk and was quickly replaced on the bases by Dylan Gallman. Tyler Owens dropped a sacrifice bunt to move Gallman into scoring position.
The next batter, Will Owens, plated Gallman with a line drive double down the left field line to send the Hilltoppers up 1-0.
Tyler Sims almost had a repeat a few pitches later but his sharp grounder towards third rolled foul. His next grounder was fielded by the third baseman but he beat the throw to first when the first baseman left the ground to corral the high throw from across the diamond. Will Owens moved to third during the play.
A fielder’s choice from Brent McCollum scored Owens to double the Central lead to 2-0. After McCollum swiped second base, the Knights pitcher spun around and caught him going for third, but the pickoff attempt to third base went into foul territory and McCollum came around to score on the error to make it a 3-0 game.
McEntire ran into trouble in the sixth inning after he hit the leadoff batter and the next batter landed a high pop-up in between the first baseman and the rightfielder to put runners on first and second with no outs.
North Henderson’s Zack Gahagan dropped a bunt down the third base line and beat the throw to load the bases for Carson Smith.
Smith hit a grounder to the shortstop who flipped the ball to second for one out but the double-play attempt went wide of the first baseman and allowed a second run to score on the play. The Central lead was cut to 3-2.
McEntire worked out of the rest of the inning to preserve the one-run lead.
Central threatened with two runners on base in the bottom half of the frame but they couldn’t extend the lead going into the seventh inning.
An error by Joel McDaiel at third base allowed the tying run for the Knight to reach base.
Another McDaniel throwing error on what was meant to be a sacrifice bunt put runners on first and third for North Henderson with no outs. Following the play, Will Owens replaced McEntire on the mound.
“We had a lot of confidence in [Owens] being out there in that situation,” Fowler said. “That’s why he’s our closer.”
After the runner on first advanced 90 feet to second base, Owens struck out Cameron Womach for the first out.
Owens nearly picked-off the runner on third, but a one-hopper to the third baseman couldn’t catch the runner in time.
North Henderson’s Sage Cornatzer grounded one to McEntire, now playing third, who fired to the plate catching the runner going for the tying run.
With two outs, Owens got the next batter to fly out to left to secure the 3-2 win.
“[Owens] has three saves on the season and he’s just been coming in and being lights out,” Fowler said.
Owens recorded the save and McEntire earned the win pitching six-plus innings allowing just one earned run on three hits while striking out four.
“[McEntire] controlled the strike zone and was able to change speeds and got ahead of hitters,” Fowlere said of his starter. “You can’t say enough about him. He did an outstanding job tonight.”
Owens also led the Hilltoppers at the plate with a 2-3 performance that included and RBI and a run scored.
Central is back in action tonight as they host Pisgah. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Rutherfordton.
WP: Dustin McEntire
S: Will Owens