– Mills River – West Henderson doubled its Mountain Seven baseball lead to two games with a gem of a no-hitter against intra-county rival North Henderson (NHHS) Knights in the “Corn Classic.” The Knights rebounded the very next day.
North Henderson decisively beat North Buncombe 6-1 at home on April 13, to win the unofficial North Bowl. NHHS (12-4; 4-3 M7) remains in a good position to make the state playoffs, by fighting Franklin (also 4-3 M7) for second place in the league. The Knights play all remaining regular season games at home.
“I’m excited about where we’re at” in the M7 standings and at 12-4 overall, Knight head coach Justin King said. He urges his players to avoid “losing back-to-back games” and to “start new winning streaks.” They did.
Meanwhile, huge left-handed first baseman Jake Lindsey is among Falcons proud to “sweep” the Knights so far. The game launched the second half of the conference season, with two games versus each foe. The Knights might meet West in the 3A state playoffs.
West is 13-3 overall, after defeating the Knights 3-0 then winning 3-2 at 4A A.C. Reynolds (6-9) two days later — last Thursday. The Falcons lead the M7 at 6-1.
North Knights, in 2021, were 10-4 for third in Mountain Athletic standings – ahead of West (7-7) and behind only T.C. Roberson (13-1) and Asheville (11-3). West and North Henderson are back in what is now the Mountain Seven Conference.
The “Corn Classic” is the Tribune’s nickname for the West-North Henderson baseball rivalry that is now between first cousins. Jackie Corn, Jr. manages West, in his second season after a decade as King’s assistant at NHHS. King is in his 11th season as the First Knight. He and Corn respect each other’s “great” teams. Jackie, a 2006 NHHS grad, was a Knight catcher.
His cousin Brayden Corn stars as the Knight shortstop with hitting, base running and defense and as the pitching closer (1.62, 2 Saves). Corn (.480, 19 SB, 26 Runs) is the leadoff batter. He lashed out three hits versus NBHS, including a triple. West principal Luke Manuel calls Corn virtually an “automatic run” – for stealing his way around bases. Three-sport standout Corn runs a fast 6.6 in the 60-yard dash.
Corn was one of only three Knight base runners against West last week, by earning a walk. He nearly spoiled the no hitter with his hard line drive. But his fiery shortstop counterpart, Jackson Lyda, speared it on a sharp hop and threw Corn out. Agile sophomore Lyda also helped turn a double play.
Lyda relished the rivalry win. He has many relatives in NHHS hub, Edneyville.
Falcon senior outfielder Lane Johnson was elated about the rivalry conquest. He said he will remind Brayden Corn and his other Knight friends of beating them. He quipped, “I’ll have fun shoving it down their faces.”
Johnson had the most prolific Falcon hit against NHHS — a home run deep to right field that sailed over the scoreboard. Surely, the ball finally landed, by the time this paper comes out. He said it “felt amazing” to connect so fully. His solo shot in the fourth inning wrapped up scoring on April 12.
“That was a big swing by Lane,” Coach Corn said. “It gave us separation” with a three-run lead. “We made enough key hits.”
West scored a run in each of the first two innings. As Johnson said, “we got off to a good start.” Jackson Duchesne doubled in Nicky Stanko for the first run, off Bryce Davidson.
Saving a run, Knight left fielder Salvador Geronimo threw to shortstop Corn. Corn rifled the relay to catcher Garrett Stackhouse, nipping pinch runner Devrey Hernandez.
Truitt Manuel doubled in the second inning. He scored on scrappy Lyda’s infield hit. Alex Anderson later singled for one of West’s five hits. Knight’s coach King is proud how his staff held West to such few hits.
West bats .327 as a team. Leading Falcon hitters are Lindsey (.465, 3 HR, 22 RBI), Anderson (.467, 15 runs, 12 RBI), Duchesne (.390, 13R, 13 RBI), Lukas Corn (.387, 10 RBI), Lyda (.302, 20R), Manuel (.289, 12 RBI), and Johnson and Jordan Whitaker both at .278.
West rallied at Reynolds with 2 runs in the sixth, to tie it 2-2. Stanko singled in a run. He was at third with Johnson at first, when the Falcons staged a double steal with a purposeful rundown. Johnson sprinted to second. Pitcher Cade Gardner threw there, and a rundown ensued. Stanko waited until Rockets closed in on Johnson, and easily raced home.
Duchesne drove home the winning run in the top of the seventh. Jordan Whitaker and Stanko pitched, with Stanko getting the win.
West’s Manuel (4-0, 1.07 ERA), Whitaker (5-1, 2.02), Duchesne (1-1, 2.47), Stanko (2-0, 2.60) and Colin Ingle (1-1, 2.62) provided strong pitching depth. All but Stanko averaged better than a strikeout per inning. Sophomore sensation Manuel fans more than 2 per inning.
The Falcon-mound combo versus NHHS April 12 consisted of senior lefty Duchesne (“Doo-SHANE”) throughout 4 innings, then Manuel for the final 3 frames. They combined to notch 12 strikeouts. Duchesne had 5 strikeouts, against 2 walks.
Coach Corn praised Duchesne’s control. “He made his pitches, to get them to put the ball into play” for mostly routine outs. Duchesne said the stakes against the Knights are huge, with “such a huge rivalry.”
Flamethrower Manuel struck out the Knights 7 times. He fanned 4 in the fifth frame, since Dylan Blackwell reached first base on a passed ball on strike three. Manuel peaked at 91 mph in relief in West’s 10-3 victory at North Henderson, March 11. Manuel one-hit Erwin in six innings.
“True-Bear” Truitt Manuel felt extra adrenalin facing such leading area hitters as Corn. He said, “I love Brayden. He’s such a great competitor.”
Knight senior third baseman and pitcher Dylan Blackwell called it “awesome” to resume their winning ways on April 13, and that “we have less pressure” going forward. Senior second baseman Chase Lee, among others, said it felt very rewarding to get a win the day after losing to their rival West.
Brayden Corn said it was crucial to get the jump on the Hawks, by scoring twice in the opening inning. That confirmed team hitting confidence, he said. “We knew everything would be all right, once we got going.” NHHS had nine hits. The Knights added a run in the third, putting the game away with three runs in the fifth inning.
Stackhouse tripled in a run in that fifth inning. The junior smashed the ball over the right fielder’s head. He doubled earlier. He said the offense got into a groove.
The top of the lineup sizzled. Each of the first three Knight hitters – Corn, Stackhouse (.320, 10R, 10 RBI) and Lee (.286, 16 RBI) – scored two runs. They scored all six NHHS runs. Lee had an RBI. Bryce Davidson bats .396 with 10 RBI. In pitching, he is 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA, and a strikeout per inning.
Burly cleanup hitter Blackwell doubled. First baseman Bryson Bradley singled home two runs.
Ace starter Blackwell (6-2, 2.80, 47K in 40IP) got the win. He yielded merely one earned run and four hits in five innings. He has a tricky curveball. His fastball hits the mid-eighties. Senior Matt Rhymer (1.95) finished off the Hawks in two scoreless innings. He also relieved against West.
When not pitching, Blackwell and Corn solidified the infield’s left side. They made all three put-outs in the final Hawk inning. Blackwell made a magnificent backhand stab near the foul line, then threw in time to first base.