Hertford County prevails

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

EDENTON – Despite blowing a five-run lead Hertford County came back to score a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and hold on to down Bertie, 7-5, and win the Northeastern Coastal Conference’s final baseball playoff spot.  The Bears’ victory came Friday night here at historic Hicks Field in a winner-take-all play-in game.

The season does not end, however, for the Falcons.  Bertie was able to secure a post-season wildcard spot.

Hertford County opened things on Friday night with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning.  Eric Ortiz singled to left field off Bertie starting pitcher Cody Matthews, but was out later on a fielder’s choice by Dylan Waterfield, who ended up on second base because of an error on the play.  The next batter, Brandon Terry, then stroked a 380-foot two-run home run over the left-field wall in the venerable old ballpark and the Bears had a 2-0 lead.

Hertford County added to that total with a couple of more runs in the bottom of the second inning.  Austin Hurdle doubled into the gap in left centerfield.  Tyler Pope was then hit by a pitch to put two men aboard.  Hurdle scored all the way from second on Ortiz’ RBI single to center, but Pope was held at third.  Pope scored five pitches later when Waterfield hit a line-drive single to center.  The two runs staked the Bears to a 4-0 lead after just two innings of baseball.

Hertford County added another run in the bottom of the third inning.  Ryan Weaver had an infield single, stole second, and then went to third on a Bryan Merritt sacrifice fly.  Weaver crossed the plate later on a Hurdle RBI double to right centerfield for a 5-0 Bear lead heading into the fourth inning.

With their season running out of innings, it looked like Bertie would finally get off the turf in the top of the fifth.  Matthew Weaver got on base with a two-out single to right field.  Adam Cowand then reached first base on an error and Alex Harmon drew a nine-pitch walk to load the bases. However, Bears starter, Ackerman Grace, got a flyout for the third out and the Falcons left the bases loaded and themselves still in a hole, 5-0 after four-and-a-half innings.

But the Falcon bats finally awoke one inning later.  Matthews opened the sixth inning with a single to left.  Matthew Evans was next and he got a base-knock to right field.  Javier Pagola then reached first on an error and the Falcons had the bases loaded with nobody out.

Matthews scored the first Bertie run when Weaver reached first on an error.  Evans brought home the second run on a Michael Scott bases-loaded walk.  Pagola then scored run number-three on a Cowand sacrifice fly.  Harmon drew the inning’s second base-on-balls and the sacks were full again.  Christian Bland then crushed a two-run double to right field scoring Weaver and Scott with what were the tying runs; however pinch-runner Deondre Stephenson was thrown out at the plate ending the inning.   The score was now 5-5 after five-and-a-half innings of play.

Hertford County would get their go-ahead runs in the bottom of the frame.  Pinch-hitter A.J. Liverman opened the inning with a double off Bertie reliever Cowand.  J.J. Gatling then was hit by a pitch and Bertie coach Bobby Harmon pulled Cowand for Alex Harmon.  Harmon gave up a single to Waterfield to left and the bases were loaded.  Terry followed with another base-hit, this time scoring the Bears’ go-ahead run in the form of Liverman.  Merritt made it three straight safeties as he singled to right scoring Gatling, although Waterfield was thrown out at home plate to end the inning.   But the damage was done and the Bears had re-captured the lead, 7-5.

Bertie still had three more outs to work with, but they came and went quickly.  Matthews led off with a single to center giving the Falcon fans hope, but he was later the first out of the inning on a fielder’s choice by Evans.  Evans never got past first base as Ortiz got a pair of fly outs to pick up his second straight save in 24 hours and the Bears had claimed the NE Coastal Conference’s number-four playoff spot.

Grace pitched the first five innings of scoreless baseball for the Bears; no runs on two hits and he had five strikeouts.  Merritt pitched one inning allowing five runs on three hits with one strikeout, but he was the pitcher of record when the Bears went ahead a half-inning later, and he gets the win: his fifth of the year.  Ortiz pitched one inning allowing no runs on one hit.

Matthews went an inning-and-two-thirds for Bertie allowing four runs on five hits and he had one strikeout.  Cowand pitched three-and-a-third innings allowing three runs on four hits with two strikeouts, and he gets tagged with the loss.  Harmon pitched one inning, giving up no runs with three hits and he had a pair of strikeouts.

Hertford County had a dozen hits and were led by Terry with two hits and three runs-batted-in. Ortiz, Waterfield, Merritt, and Hurdle had two hits each and one RBI.  Weaver and Liverman had one hit.

Bertie had six hits as Matthews led the Falcons with three hits.  Weaver, Evans, and Bland had the other three hits with Bland driving in two runs.

“Ackerman pitched five strong innings for us,” said Hertford County coach Chris Towell.  “We gave them six outs there in the sixth inning and they took advantage of it.  But give Bertie credit, they played a great game and made us earn this playoff berth. “

“Congratulations to Hertford County on the win and a good season,” said Bertie coach Harmon.  “I thought they swung the bats really well throughout the whole game and got timely hits and we didn’t.  We left a ton of base runners on and couldn’t get that big two-out hit in the early innings.  I’m very proud of my kids for the way they fight and never give up.  I just wish we would have started with the sense of urgency we finished with.”

Bertie finishes the regular season losing five of their last six games to go 15-9.  Hertford County finishes the regular season at 15-7 with a fourth-place finish in the 2A Northeastern Coastal Conference.

“I’m proud of my team for fighting the whole game,” added Towell.  “This was playoff baseball because you either survive and advance, or go home.”

Bertie won’t exactly be going home.  The NCHSAA awarded the Falcons one of the three 2A wild-card spots.  The Falcons open on the road at Currituck while Hertford County will play at Bunn; both games will be played tonight (Tuesday) at 7  p.m.