A rivalry showdown for the right to advance to the 3A Western Regional finals best-of-three series is all set up in WNC baseball – weather permitting.
The home of the Reynolds Rockets, site of Friday’s scheduled 7 p.m. clash vs. crosstown rival Roberson, is a soaked J.T. Davis Field that can’t absorb much more of the rain that has been pelting down the last couple of days.
But if the creek don’t rise, the Rams and Rockets are ready to do battle for the third time this season – without their star pitchers on the mound.
Reynolds righthander Josh Dotson and Roberson lefthander Eric Wallington threw in Tuesday night’s playoff wins, and due to NCHSAA rules on pitch counts and off days, neither can toe the rubber in their team’s biggest game of the season.
If the game is postponed Friday and Saturday, both aces would be available if the game was played Monday.
The forecast is for more rain Thursday and Friday.
“If it keeps raining, we just have to go to the next available playing date (Saturday),” said Reynolds coach Bryan Craig. “We’re going to pump some water off the field (Thursday), but it can’t hold much more rain.”
“I don’t know what Reynolds is thinking, but I’m sure they would love to have Dotson throw, so we may have to wait this thing out until Monday,” Rams’ coach Eric Filipek said with a laugh.
Reynolds (21-3), the No. 2 seed, comes into the game with a robust hitting team and the confidence of having smeared Roberson in their two Western Mountain Athletic Conference meetings earlier this month that decided the regular-season title.
Rockets’ blowouts of 10-0 and 21-9 has Craig’s team knowing they can handle the defending 4A state champions.
“Confidence-wise, those two games helped tremendously, I just hope our kids aren’t overconfident,” Craig said.
“But our guys are loose and confident, and that helps you play this game when you are relaxed.”
Craig has been pleased with his team’s play all season, and especially recently.
“We’ve played well all season, but we have kind of turned it on late in the season, which is what a coach likes to see.”
Filipek said his team has bounced back from the lopsided losses to Reynolds in much the same manner as it has recovered from major graduation losses off a 31-3 team and some major injuries to stars like catcher Aaron McKeithan.
“A lot of things went against us that week (the two losses against Reynolds),” Filipek said. “Over the past eight years, we’ve pretty much had their number, so I think our confidence level against Reynolds is fine.
“We’re a junior-laded team with new kids at almost every position, and we’ve lost three kids to Tommy John surgery.
“But in the playoffs, that heart of a champion has come out, and we’re playing with confidence now.”
So who is going to pitch Friday night? Both coaches are either undecided or keeping their decisions to themselves.
“We’ve got some optionsI wish this time of year the rules were a little bit different (about Dotson and Wallington), but you have to have a good staff to keep advancing, and we feel like we do,” said Craig.
The most likely starter is senior Jordan Pendley (6-1, 3.72 ERA), but Craig said Jalen Crowder (0-1, 3.00 ERA in six games) and Jimmy Baumstark (3-0, 1.75 ERA in eight appearances) could also throw.
Filipek said his likely starter is lefthander Davin Miller-Madden or righthander Luke Wood.
“We haven’t really decided who will start, and I honestly don’t know right now, but you will probably see two or three guys,” said Filipek.
Whoever is throwing will be going against potent offenses.
Reynolds is getting great production from Dotson, sophomore catcher Cooper Ingle and junior Alex Flinn.
Roberson counters with Will Butcher, Spencer Keehan and McKeithan, who has returned from an arm injury and has been on a hitting tear, but still can’t play in the field.
“Our kids have been unbelievable,” said Filipek. “We have some talented kids, but to go through the graduation losses and injuries and be where they are today, it’s been a great run and great experience.”