Barons bow out
GATESVILLE – His name is Stone, and he was rock solid.
Loy Stone of Voyager Academy went 2-for-3 at the plate thanks to a triple and a home run. The right-hander also pitched a four-hit shutout with nine strikeouts.
All of which helped eliminate Gates County 4-0 in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association1-A baseball playoffs Friday in Gatesville.
The Durham-based charter school, in only its fifth year of existence and playing its first year of varsity baseball with a team composed of freshman and sophomores finally can head home.
Much like the ‘Star-Trek’ TV show of a similar name, the Vikings have no home. Well, no home field, anyway.
They split their home baseball games between historic Durham Athletic Park (of the movie ‘Bull Durham’ fame) and Duke University’s Jack Coombs Field.
But as far as the Red Barons are concerned they could be from outer space because their play Friday was out of this world.
The Viking win also spoiled the home finale of senior lefty Nathaniel Simpson. The Red Baron southpaw hurler surrendered four runs on seven hits while walking just four batters. He also had a game-high dozen strikeouts.
“We knew we were going to be facing a kid who threw the ball pretty well,” said Gates coach Jonathan Hayes. “He did his job and unfortunately, we didn’t come through with the timely hits at the right time.”
Most of that was thanks to the pitching of Stone, who stopped the Baron bats; giving up just four hits.
Simpson had his fastball working the corners early. A first inning one-out walk was erased by a fielder’s choice and the inning ended with, what else, a strikeout.
Gates had a good opportunity in the bottom of the first.
Simpson led off with a base-hit to right field, but a Trace Buck fielder’s choice erased his scoring chance.
Buck went to second on a passed-ball and after Terry Whitlow walked Adison Eure’s sacrifice fly put both runners in scoring position. However, Stone snuffed the threat with a strikeout of his own.
Another Gates chance came in the bottom of the second.
Luke Loiles got a one-out single and after a strikeout the Red Barons caught a bit of luck when a Trey Lawrence fly ball was dropped for an error.
The “E” allowed Loiles to make it all the way to third, but despite runners on the corners, Stone again came through with a strikeout to end another threat.
While Gates went three-up-and-three-down over the next three innings, Voyager was preparing for liftoff.
In the top of the fourth Hunter Coates doubled to the right field fence.
The next batter was Stone who hit it to almost the exact same spot and as Coates scored, Stone legged it out for a triple.
A walk and a stolen base had a pair in scoring position before Simpson got a groundout to end the inning, but saw his team trailing at home 1-0.
Two more runs came in the top of the fifth; this time it was Coates with a two-run single. Stone led off the sixth with a solo shot to the deepest part of the ball field – straightaway center field – and the score was now 4-0.
A Gates bat came back to life in the bottom of the frame when Eure singled and went to second on a wild pitch; but thanks to Stone bearing down and getting a couple more strikeouts the number of Barons left-on-base reached seven.
There was still a chance, however, in the bottom of the seventh. Simpson tried to help his cause with a shot up the middle and later a stolen base.
However, a Stone strikeout put Voyager in orbit and sent the Vikings (17-5) to the 1A eastern semi-final.
Simpson finished 2-for-3 at the plate, the only Baron with more than one hit.
“That number-seven (Simpson), he threw bullets at us and we were lucky to get some timely hits off of him,” said Voyager coach Pete Shankle,
“Today, my kid was better,” he added. “Maybe not every day; but he was today.”
“Winning the conference and getting to the third round was great,” said Hayes. “But seeing these kids grow up over three years was the most important thing.”
Gates ends their season at 18-7.