LA lads advance to Final Four

Published 11:55 am Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MERRY HILL – It’s Homecoming time.

No, not the fall or family gathering kind, but Lawrence Academy’s baseball team heading for their “home” baseball field.

And not the one in Merry Hill, either.

The Warriors (21-8) crushed Grace Christian School Tuesday in the second round of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association playoffs, 17-3, and are now headed back to Wilson’s Fleming Stadium to defend their state championship.

Despite surrendering several runs in the first inning, the Warriors went ahead in their half of the first and never looked back; smacking a total of a dozen hits, including a pair of homeruns.

Cody Ambrose had the game of a lifetime: driving in six runs thanks to a bases-clearing single in the second inning and a three-run homerun in the third. J.B. Williams also had a long-bomb blast and drove in four runs.

Ryan Lilley, Jim Porter and Zach Eubanks also drove in runs with Lilley picking up the win in relief.  For an inning and a third of work he gave up just one base hit while striking out three.

Returning to Fleming, where they’ve already picked up a trio of non-conference wins this season, Lawrence will be seeking their fifth state title in a row.

They will begin the championship series with the semi-finals Friday at 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. with the finals beginning at 7 p.m.  The second final will be played Saturday morning at 11 a.m. followed by a third game, if necessary.

The past four years it hasn’t gone as far as a second Saturday game, but Warrior coach Robert Kravitz is taking no chances.

“Yeah, it’s back to Wilson,” he said with a chuckle before his expression turned serious. “But I think we need to come out and play a little bit better from the gate.  We don’t need to get down 3-0 Friday and try to bounce back because it is tough.

“Even today it was tough,” he added.  “We put up a lot of runs, but it wasn’t comfortable.”

What made Kravitz – and maybe a few of the Warrior fans – uneasy was the surprising start to the contest.

Grace Christian lit up the scoreboard first with two runs in the top of the first inning thanks to three singles, a double and a walk. They got another run on a passed-ball to take an early 3-0 lead and forcing Kravitz to yank his starter early.

But the Lawrence bats had yet to be heard from and when they made noise, it was loud and clear.

In the bottom of the first, Lilley punched through a one-out base hit and scored one batter later when Porter doubled to right-center field. Two batters and one out later, Eubanks hit a shot through the infield that scored Porter and got the Warriors within one at 3-2.

The lead for good came just four pitches later when Williams launched a rocket over the left-center field fence scoring Darren Armstrong and Eubanks ahead of him. It sent the Lawrence fans into frenzy and the Warriors into the lead, 5-4.

Lawrence got four more runs in the bottom of the second inning.

Jesse White singled up the middle and then stole second base. Robert Thompson next hit a lazy fly ball to left field, but it was dropped for a two-base error, putting runners on second and third.

Lilley followed with a walk to load the bases before Ambrose cleared the bags with a long single to right field that brought in three. Ambrose later scored on an error to make it, 9-3, Warriors.

Lawrence sent a dozen men to the plate in the third inning where the highlight of the frame was Ambrose’s three-run homer.

After the home team picked up two runs, Ambrose rifled a towering shot off a fastball into the humid Merry Hill air. The Crusader right fielder first broke in, then charged out, before helplessly watching the wind-blown ball sail over the fence.

Lawrence tacked on two-more to make it a seven-run inning.

They got one more to make it a 14-run margin.

“We knew we had to be dead-on if we were going to have a chance to beat these guys,” said Grace coach Jeff Ayers. “They definitely have a good team and somebody’s going to have to be on their A-game to beat them.”

“I trust my pitching for this weekend,” added Kravitz.  “I know we can hit, and as long as we hit the ball and play defense behind them, we’ll be alright.”