PILOT MOUNTAIN — The familiar sound of aluminum bats rang out from the batting cage at Barry Hall Field over the weekend.
East Surry (30-0) held a light practice Saturday morning, the first practice since securing a Western regional baseball title on Thursday night.
The Cardinals had to travel more than 500 miles round-trip to close out the Hayesville Yellow Jackets in the best-of-three series. The team’s charter bus got back to Pilot Mountain around 2:30 a.m. Friday.
It’s now back to business, as East prepares to play in the state championship beginning Friday night.
The Cards taken on the Whiteville Wolfpack (25-5) in a best-of-three championship series. Game 1 is Friday at 5 p.m. at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, home of the Carolina Mudcats. Game 2 will be Saturday at 11 a.m. Game 3 if necessary would come at 5 p.m.
The Cardinals were relaxed and confident heading into the series clincher at Hayesville, but not too loose.
“The best compliment is when the bus driver says, ‘That’s the best group I’ve ever taken. I don’t know what you did, drugged them or what,’” coach Barry Hall of East Surry said with a chuckle.
Tyler Marion fired a one-hitter and struck out nine in the 4-0 win that closed out the Jackets. Marion, the junior right-hander, took a perfect game into the seventh.
“He was strong,” Hall said. “He’d been having trouble the first inning, but not this time. He was sharp from the first pitch.”
Marion (12-0) said he threw a lot of pitches before Thursday’s game.
“The whole year, the first inning hasn’t been great,” Marion said. “I got my arm loose, and came out on fire.”
East scored a run in the fourth, two in the fifth and another in the sixth against two solid Hayesville pitchers.
Senior right-hander Scott Meredith, the other starter in the Cards’ two-arm rotation, said the team knew it had to focus in order to avoid a decisive Game 3 — like North Stokes’ softball team needed to put away Hiwassee Dam on Saturday evening.
“We didn’t want to play here (East Surry) again,” Meredith said. “We knew we had to take care of business.”
Marion and Meredith have proven themselves in big game situations, with a defense behind them that consistently makes the routine plays.
East has given up just five runs in six playoff contests.
“Tyler throwing a one-hitter, that was big, especially this deep in the state playoffs,” leadoff man Logan Sheets said.
As for the opponent, Whiteville swept Rosewood in the Eastern regional final series, winning 14-5 in Game 1 and 5-4 in Game 2.
The Wolfpack lost four games in their own conference, but have won their past 14 games, peaking at the right time.
Like the Cards, the Wolfpack don’t allow many runs, giving up about two and a half runs a game, while scoring seven runs a night.
East Surry has won 30 times with an average score of 8-1.
Whiteville is 13-1 at home, but just 9-4 on the road. East Surry went 14-0 at home, but is also 13-0 on the road.
Hall said his team has enjoyed tremendous crowd support from the community during the Cards’ run.
“We had as many people as Hayesville did,” Hall said of those who made the 262-mile trip. “When you travel that far, it’s unreal. That’s the type of people we have. That means a lot to me.
“My phone (Friday) night, the night before, I was getting text messages. People have really gotten behind us. These kids will never forget this. It’s something they’ll have the rest of their lives.”
After the shutout win Thursday sent the Cards to the championship, the players enjoyed a fun bus ride back home.
“It was the best feeling ever. At first it didn’t seem real,” senior outfielder Preston Smith said. “I couldn’t be more excited. This is a dream season.”