Tigers take different route, end up in PAC final

One strike away from a tournament exit, Randleman overcomes Providence Grove

RANDLEMAN – Randleman’s baseball team hadn’t been in many of these situations in recent years.

Trailing by two runs and down to their final strike, the Tigers’ stranglehold on the Piedmont Athletic Conference was in jeopardy Tuesday night.

Providence Grove was on the cusp of pulling off an upset in the PAC Tournament semifinal.

“I haven’t been in that many situations like that.” Randleman junior Seth Way said. “Do what you have to do to win the game.”

So he did. Down 0-2 in the count with runners on second and third with two outs, Way rapped a single to center field on reliever JC Cruz’s knuckleball. That tied the game.

“I saw it coming,” Way said of the knuckler.

The game went to extra innings, where Chesney Welch’s one-out single to left field brought in Shawn Miller from second base. Miller drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.

Randleman coach Jake Smith, whose two-time reigning Class 2-A state champions often dominated, couldn’t recall the last time the Tigers produced a late-game comeback.

“All that matters is our score is higher than theirs,” Way said.

The Tigers (19-4) will meet visiting Trinity, a 4-0 semifinal winner against Uwharrie Charter Academy, in Thursday night’s tournament final in a rematch from a year ago.

Providence Grove ended Randleman’s 38-game conference winning streak last month with a 3-2 victory and then dropped a 3-2 decision later that week in the regular-season rematch. The Patriots (14-10) needed just one more out to notch another upset.

“It is what it is,” Providence Grove coach Glen Hunt said. “That’s what they do. We played well three times against them.”

Way and Providence Grove’s Jayten Beasley were locked in a pitchers’ duel until Way’s home run to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

The Patriots struck back in the fifth, using four singles and an error on the way to three runs. The first run was scored by Brady Collins on a two-out double steal. Logan Fox capped the rally with an RBI single.

From there, the Patriots dodged trouble the next two innings. Cruz entered with two runners on base and two outs to strike out Hunter Atkins to end the fifth. The Tigers stranded two more runners in the sixth after Jake Riddle’s two-out double.

Smith said he was glad Way could overshadow his fifth-inning pitching misfortune with his bat.

“He took it out at the plate,” Smith said.

Then in the eighth, it was Welch’s turn for a clutch hit. He wasn’t on the team last year.

“Sitting in the dugout right before I went out, I was kind of hoping it would get to me,” he said.

Providence Grove, playing for the second night in a row, had to piece together the pitching. Hunt said Beasley excelled in a heightened role.

“He did a real good job keeping them off balance,” Hunt said. “I thought we played a really clean game defensively.”

Austin Lemons pitched two innings of shutout relief for the Tigers. Smith said he’ll be the starting pitcher for the tournament final.

With only two returning starters from a year ago in the Randleman lineup, this group wants to get the job done, too.

“It’s a pride thing,” Smith said. “You’re here at your home field and you’re protecting your home field. They’ve got a lot of pride.”

** In the quarterfinals, Providence Grove upended Southwestern Randolph 10-9 in eight innings. That game was contested at Randleman because of wet field conditions at Providence Grove.

Karson Bowman’s three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning tied the game. Andrew Canter was the winning pitcher in relief. Tyler Foust homered earlier in the game. Landon Williamson homered and Tyler Parks drove in three runs for Southwestern Randolph (9-14).

By Bob Sutton