RONDA — In a game that only lasted 85 minutes, the East Wilkes Cardinals baseball team put on one of its best performances of the season. The Cardinals hosted North Stanly on Friday night in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A Playoffs. In the field and in the batter’s box, East Wilkes put together a top-notch game that saw the Cardinals take a 2-0 win over North Stanly.
“It’s like I told the guys, I’m just proud of the way they battled,” said East Wilkes Assistant Coach Justin Call. “We faced one of the best pitchers in the West, he was big last year as a freshman in the series finals, and we knew that we were going to have our work cut out for us.”
East Wilkes started off the game with a quick three-up three-down in the field. On the mound, Bryce Vestal put down two strikeouts to start off the inning, while Jared Wood caught the third out in center field with an impressive diving catch.
Heading into the bottom of the inning, Sean Sidden put the ball in play on the first pitch for a single to center field. Sidden was able to steal second on a wild pitch, then advanced to third as he tagged up on a Caeden Howell pop-fly. With a runner on third and two outs on the board, Brandon Church was walked for the Cardinals. East Wilkes was unable to bring runners across the plate, but the tempo had been set for the upcoming innings.
“We worked all week on trying to be aggressive at the plate and I thought our guys went in and did a great job at that,” said Call. “I thought we had better hitting than what the results show, because we hit a lot of hard hit balls that (North Stanly) made great plays on.”
The Cardinals had several hard hits throughout the game. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Church hit a hard line drive down the first base line. North Stanly’s first baseman made a catch that can only be classified as a reaction catch. It was a hard hit by Church, but the defensive presence of North Stanly kept the Cardinals from advancing around the bases.
With the score still tied 0-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, the intensity on both sides started to pick up. East Wilkes knew they had a job to do, and the Cardinals did just that. With two outs on the board, Howell stepped up to the plate and put down a fantastic hit. On a full count, Howell hit a fly ball into left field. The ball traveled the perfect distance for a home run, but just as it looked to be going over, the ball hit the top of the fence and bounced back into play. Howell was able to stand up at second base for a double, and the Cardinals were in prime position to take the lead as Bryce Vestal stepped up to the plate.
“When Caeden got on, that hit was off the top of the fence and he hit it hard. After that, I had a feeling that Bryce was going to have a good at-bat,” said Call. “I told Bryce before if they make a mistake on a fast ball to hit it hard, and he did.”
Vestal was able to make the most of a perfect fast ball on a 1-1 count. The ball came off the bat and sailed over the center field fence and kept going into the woods. It was a two-run home run and the Cardinals had taken the lead over North Stanly.
“He threw me the fast ball, and as soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone,” said Vestal.
The Cardinals were able to stand tall on defense in the top of the seventh inning, as Vestal put down two strikeouts and Trenton Rhodes caught a fly-ball. The three outs gave East Wilkes the win and advanced the Cardinals to the third round of the playoffs.
“It was just a good baseball game and I’m just proud that we get to advance to another round and keep battling,” said Call.
On the mound, Vestal had a top-notch performance for the Cardinals. He pitched seven innings, allowed only two hits and had 11 strikeouts.
“He was fantastic,” said Call on Vestal’s performance on the mound. “That is what you get when you put a senior on the mound in a big game. He stepped up to the challenge and he’s just a competitor. He competed.”
The Cardinals moved on to the third round where they traveled to Pilot Mountain to take on East Surry. Results were not available by press deadline.