The St. Stephens baseball team went into Tuesday’s clash against South Caldwell on a two-fold mission — clinch a 3A playoff spot and stay in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference title chase. Mission accomplished thanks to a combined one-hitter by Julian Peissel and Josh Barkley in a 3-0 win.
“To beat a team that caliber, that’s a playoff-type atmosphere,” said Indians’ coach Jimmy Bowman. “That’s a playoff-type win.”
Peissel started and went five innings to get the win. He struck out seven, one at least every inning, and walked four. The lone hit he surrendered came in the third inning when Isiah Kirby slapped a single going to the opposite field with two outs. Not surprisingly, Peissel got a strikeout to get out of the inning.
Barkley held the Spartans hitless to secure the shutout over the final two frames with four strikeouts and one walk.
“Julian came in a did his job. He competed in every at-bat. Found ways, got a lucky play,” Bowman said. “Hats off to them (South Caldwell). They made him work for it.
“Josh Barkley came in and threw two shutout innings in relief. Just big-time innings. He dominated. He did a good job.”
All but two players in the South Caldwell line-up had at least one K beside their names in the scorebook, a fact not lost on Spartans’ coach Jeff Parham. South Caldwell left six runners on base, three in scoring position.
“We had some situations there. When we had some people in scoring positions, the guy (Peissel) was a little bit tougher mentally,” Parham said. “You can’t strike out in the situations we were in tonight. Hats off to the pitcher, he got the strikeout when he needed it.”
The Indians got on the scoreboard in the second inning. Silas Isenhour drew a lead-off walk and was sacrificed to second by Elec Marvin. Peyton Young singled to right-center to plate Isenhour. Young, who later stole second, scored when a ground ball was misplayed by the Spartans’ infield.
The only other run of the game came in the fifth inning when Peissel slammed a two-out homer to left on a 1-2 pitch, one of the few mistakes made by Spartans’ pitcher Elias Morrales.
“I was proud of Elias tonight,” Parham said. “He did a good job tonight. He gave us a chance to win.”
Morrales pitched a complete game and walked just two while giving up seven hits, five of them singles.
Perhaps the key play of the game came in the fifth inning and effectively ended the Spartans’ most serious threat to dent the scoreboard.
Mason Reising and Max Renquist each drew a free pass from Peissel with the Spartans trailing 2-0. With runners on first and second and no outs, Kirby lined a bullet right at Indians’ shortstop Peyton Young. The ball deflected off Young’s glove and chest, falling to the dirt at his feet. Both runners had retreated and Young simply tagged the lead runner for one out and stepped on second for another.
Peissel then got the final strikeout of his outing to end the inning.
“What’s funny about it is, if he (Young) catches the ball we’re okay,” Parham said. “The baserunners did a great job of retreating, of going back on a line drive. That’s what we teach.”
Peissel hit his home run in the bottom half of the frame and Barkley followed that with two shutout innings.
Young paced the Indians’ offense with three singles, a stolen base, an RBI and a run scored. Isenhour had a double and Peissel slapped a single to go with his round-tripper.
South Caldwell is now 7-4 overall and 6-4 in conference play. The Spartans will play at Alexander Central on Saturday.
St. Stephens has now won four straight. The team sits at 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the conference. The Indians remain tied with McDowell for first place while claiming the conference’s 3A postseason slot. The Indians will host Hickory on Friday and entered Tuesday’s game ranked 12th among North Carolina 3A teams.
“It means a lot to us,” Bowman said of locking down a playoff spot. “We knew they were only going to take one team from our 3A. We knew it was going to be tough. That was our main goal — to win that 3A spot. Everything else was going to take care of itself. We’ve still got some business to work on.”