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Comets win Conference 16 tournament

South Boston News
Andrew Abbott / May 28, 2014

Halifax County High School varsity baseball secured its first Conference 16 championship Monday with a never-quit attitude, downing a good PH-Ashland club, 5-4, in eight innings.

Halifax accepted the conference title trophy moments after a frenzied celebration. The Comets will skip the first round of Region 5-A play on Friday, and play Monday at home. Game time is 6 p.m. The opponent is unknown.

The Comets had just rallied in the bottom of the seventh. Then, HCHS delivered the knockout punch in the bottom of the eighth inning.

PH got the first two outs, but then leadoff hitter Ryan Powell cracked a double.

Andrew McCann then stepped up.

McCann has been a source of trouble for opponents all year long, and Monday was no exception. He sent a liner that was misplayed by the PH rightfielder, getting Powell home with the game-winning run.

HCHS faithful exploded with joy. The Comets then serenaded PH with a rendition of ‘Hit the Road, Jack.”

McCann expressed excitement to see the rightfielder bobble the ball. “I knew Ryan was going to score, because he always gets good jumps with two outs,” said McCann, who had no idea the ball would drop away from the fielder.

“I guess I’m in the right situation at the right time,” said McCann, who went with an outside pitch he could drive.

There were a number of key contributors here. Freshman Andrew Abbott pitched out of some tough situations, and, with one exception, reliever Chase Wilkerson was excellent.

The defense stood up. Catcher Tristan Howerton made contributions by repeatedly blocking off-target pitches, and other defenders, including smooth fielding second baseman Will Harris stepped up.

And the Comets, who finished with ten hits, delivered with timely hits. Two players, pinch-hitter Thomas Cole and McCann, plated the tying and winning runs, respectively, in the bottom of the seventh and the last HCHS at-bat in the eighth.

Powell, Harris and Bennett had two hits apiece.

Abbott, who was pulled up from the jayvees earlier, officially went five complete. Wilkerson finished with excellent work in the sixth, before surrendering a two-run double in the PH seventh.

But Wilkerson rallied and shut down PH in the eighth, getting the win on the mound. PH had three hits, with Abbott recording six strikeouts.

Wilkerson fanned the side in the bottom of the sixth, survived the seventh and ended the game on a strikeout in the eighth.

Abbott issued a leadoff walk, which can usually lead to some trouble.

PH-Ashland got the run home for a 1-0 lead after their first at-bat.

PH got a walk and stole second. Will Harris made an acrobatic catch to rob PH of a hit. Eventually, the lead runner for PH stole third. Abbott issued another walk, putting runners on first and third.

The Comets had a double play opportunity, but there was an error at first, allowing the first run to score. Abbott and the Comets got out of further trouble by getting the force at second.

Halifax threatened, but left the sacks jammed in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, McCann bunted and beat a high throw to reach first. He went all the way to second on the play. Harris slapped a single to get runners on first and third.

Howerton reached on an error, but the threat ended with back to back strikeouts.

PH got the lead runner on after a single, but he was forced at second and Abbott followed with two strikeouts to end the top of the second inning. HCHS went quietly in the bottom of the second.

PH got the leadoff runner to third after a walk and two stolen bases in the top of the third inning, but Abbott worked out of the jam with two consecutive strikeouts and a groundout.

HCHS grabbed a 2-1 lead after three innings.

With one out, McCann singled. With two out, Howerton followed with a solid single to center. Dustin Crews reached on an error at short, allowing the run to score to tie the game. McCann showed good baserunning hustle to score.

Pinch runner Adrian Moran scored on a wild pitch during the inning for a 2-1 HCHS lead, before the threat fizzled.

Abbott had a smooth fourth, fanning two more and getting a groundout.

He got into a groove later in the inning, and threw well, given his overall lack of varsity experience. He’s getting more confidence and showed good stuff at times.

The Comets extended their lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth.

Tripp Bennett cracked a two-out double. Powell, batting leadoff, brought him home with an RBI single. Powell stole second, but was stranded.

Abbott stranded two PH runners in the top of the fifth. Halifax stranded Dustin Crews, who had singled, in the bottom of the inning.

Abbott ran into difficulty in the top of the sixth.

The freshman walked the leadoff runner. PH followed with a bunt that was mishanded. That scored a runner from second, and Abbott departed.

Wilkerson entered, with HCHS leading, 3-2, with runners on second and third. Wilkerson responded with a clutch performance - three straight strikeouts - to escape further trouble.

Wilkerson said his confidence grew with every strike he threw.

“The first out’s always the hardest to get. After that one, I got more comfortable up there,” said Wilkerson.

HCHS went quietly in its half of the sixth.

PH rallied with two runs in the top of the seventh, as Wilkerson made one bad pitch. The Comet hurler got burned on a two-out double to lift PH to a 4-3 lead. Suddenly, the momentum shifted and Halifax’s hopes of a conference title were jeopardized.

Wilkerson said the PH hitter “caught an outside fastball and I just left it too much over the plate. He took a pretty good swing out there and put it out there good. I had confidence the team would come back and pick me up.”

HCHS forced a tie in the bottom of the seventh.

With one out, Harris cracked a single. The next better struck out, and Crews followed with a walk.

From there, Davis made the call to go to pinch-hitter Thomas Cole. The burly Comet responded with a critical RBI basehit to tie the contest at 4-4.

Stephens, who has helped the Comets get here with some fine defensive play and some key offensive moments, took an admirable team first attitude when Davis sent for Cole to pinch hit.

“I knew Thomas was going to get the hit. I had confidence in him. I had been struggling the whole game at the plate,” said Stephens. He was relieved when Cole got the game-tying hit.

Cole, for his part, expressed shock at his pinch hitting assignment. “I got down two strikes, and I was like, he was going to throw a curveball and I’m going to strikeout. But he threw it right down the pike. I just turned on it and I got a basehit right (past) second base,” said Cole. Bedlam, and extra innings.

Wilkerson swent through a 1-2-3 PH eighth, finishing with a strikeout. He was also backed up by some crisp Comet defense, and then HCHS got it done in the bottom of the eighth.

Halifax is enjoying enhanced confidence after a run to the conference title.

“If we keep hitting, and pitching like I know we can, we’re going to be set. We’re going to be ready to go,” said Abbott.

Cole did his job, and McCann followed up one inning later.

“McCann’s a super ballplayer. Defensively, he came in and did what we wanted him to do at shortstop ... (And) the kid can hit. He’s not up there trying to kill the baseball. He’s trying to get the bat head around and he’s done a heck of a job,” said Comet head coach Kelvin Davis.

“We’re fortunate we had the right guys up at the right time and they delivered. It was meant for us to win this game,” Davis said.

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