Falcons Slaughter Grizzlies, Advance to State Finals - TribPapers

Falcons Slaughter Grizzlies, Advance to State Finals

Colin Ingle (wearing shades, at left) and Jackson Lyda whoop it up after Lyda scores West Henderson’s first run in its 14-4 victory on Friday to win the region. They approach Eli Shinn (17). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills River – West Henderson plays for the 3A state baseball championship for the first time since winning it in 1992, after blasting Oak Grove 14-4 on Friday to triumph on back-to-back nights and seize the West Region crown.

Reaching the state finals “feels amazing,” star Truitt Manuel said. “But our job is not finished yet. We’ve got to win the state.”

West Henderson (25-5), seeded third in the West, plays East Region number one seed J.H. Rose Rampants (26-3) from Greenville, N.C. in a best-of-three series in the Burlington Athletic Stadium minors park starting 8 p.m. Friday. Game two is Saturday at 2 p.m. If a third West-Rose game is needed, it is Saturday at 8 p.m. or at 5 p.m. if 4A Roberson does not play a third game then.

Falcon ace Truitt Manuel struck out ten batters in a three-hit complete game to win game two, evening the regional series that West won. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Falcon ace Truitt Manuel struck out ten batters in a three-hit complete game to win game two, evening the regional series that West won. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Rose averaged nine runs in four playoff wins. Andrew Wallen, a 6-foot-7 UNC-bound junior (.494; 0.71 ERA) has clubbed ten homers.

West has tremendous depth in hitting and pitching. Alex “Muggy” Anderson bats .446. He homered in regional games one and two. He and Manuel (.394) have each slugged five homers. Leadoff batter Jackson Lyda (.440) has three homers.

Mound master Manuel is 10-1. N.C. State-bound “Tru-Bear” has a sparkling 0.68 ERA and 0.83 WHIP, with 110 strikeouts (“K’s”) in 61 2/3 innings. Lefty Ryan “Kaz” Kasney (2.90/1.39), also a junior, is 7-2 with 54 K’s in 44 frames. He started the regional opener, which the Grizzlies won 5-2. Senior Nicky Stanko (1.80/1.39) pitched in the clincher. He is 4-0 with 31 K’s in 39 innings.

‘Tru’-Blue Chip

Manuel evened the series by hurling a complete game 2-1 victory in game two, May 25 at Oak Grove in Winston-Salem. He fanned ten Grizzlies. He allowed merely three hits. He threw 107 pitches. He had 103 pitches before the final Grizzly at-bat — two below the firm pitch count limit — and thus could pitch to that batter.

“Throwing the complete game was awesome,” Manuel said. “That’s something I’ve dreamed of for years. It feels amazing to be part of something like this. It was a special moment for the team, that gave us a burst of energy into the following home game.”

Oak Grove (19-9) won the opener 5-2 at West. The finale was on Friday, May 26 to avoid rain on Saturday.

Gaping Gaps

Falcon head coach Jackie Corn, Jr. called this West’s best offensive output in seven playoff games in 2023. “We hit line drives in quality at-bats, going gap to gap in our approach” instead of swinging for the fences. “We try to win every inning and avoid lulls — and we did” by scoring in all four at-bats.

West exerted dominance from the get-go in the clincher. The Falcons scored three runs each in the first and second innings. Jackson Lynn’s double was the big hit in the opening frame. Seniors Jackson Lyda and Alex Anderson singled. Truitt Manuel singled in Lyda. Jude Lyda was struck in the jaw by a pitch, loading the bases. He went out for a pinch runner, but loudly rooted on teammates before heading to the hospital. Lynn doubled in two runs. West led 3-0.

In the second inning, the Grizzlies managed one run. But West tripled that output in its turn. Manuel and Isaac Johnson had RBI hits. The Falcons added an unearned run in the third inning, then a run in the fourth on singles by Lukas Kachilo, Eli Shinn, and Jackson Lyda. Shinn hit a grand slam in West’s 9-7 win over Kings Mountain in round three. Kachilo gunned down a runner at the plate from left field in the opener.

Oak Grove shaved the lead to 8-4 by the fourth inning. Then West put away the game and series with six runs, thanks to five walks and a wild pitch. Manuel led off singling. He batted again, walking with the bases loaded to put West up by ten runs at 14-4.

Oak Grove failed to reduce the lead below ten runs, in the top of the fifth inning. That ended the game early, as a ten-run slaughter. Stanko struck out four and walked none, allowing three earned runs and seven hits.

In the series-tying 2-1 win, Anderson homered in the first inning. In the second, Lynn doubled and scored on Colin Ingle’s bloop single for a 2-0 lead. Corn said the Falcons seemed “sluggish” in game one, but after that were “focused and relaxed. We had good energy, with our backs against the wall.”

After winning the region, Coach Corn praised players but cautioned that “there are still some miscues. We have to strive to be better” to win it all.