Falcons, Reynolds Split in Battle of 3A Local Elites - TribPapers

Falcons, Reynolds Split in Battle of 3A Local Elites

A relay throw sails over Reynolds catcher Lincoln Rogers’ head, as Jude Lyda slides safely in West’s 16-1 triumph last Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills River – Reigning 3A state champion West Henderson Falcons blasted the A.C. Reynolds Rockets 16-1 at home Friday. Reynolds pulled out a 5-4 win at its place on Saturday night, in a rain-makeup contest.

“You guys executed, and put on the pressure” by scoring in every inning on Friday, head coach Jackie Corn, Jr. told his Falcons in the post-victory huddle. He lauded their “killer instinct.”

West (15-2; 6-0 M7) leads the 3A Mountain Seven Conference. North Henderson (11-5; 6-2 M7) is third behind West and Tuscola (12-4; 7-1) but ahead of Pisgah, Franklin, East Henderson (3-11; 0-6) and Smoky Mountain. West closes its M7 slate with two games each against 2022-23 runner-up Tuscola then NHHS. Hendersonville (3-12; 2-6 MFC) is unusually down.

MAC Race Tightens

T.C. Roberson won the 4A state title in 2023. The Rams (13-3) lead the 4A/3A Mountain Athletic Conference at 7-1. The race tightened Friday. Erwin (8-4; 3-3) upset Roberson 5-4. That brought Asheville (8-8; 6-2 MAC) to within a game of first, and Erwin a game behind Reynolds (9-5; 4-2) among 3A MAC schools. Roberson plays at Asheville on April 30 then hosts AHS on May 5, to decide 4A top seeding. TCR crushed 3A ACR 18-0 and 5-3.

Trust in Truitt

Shrine Bowl receiver Truitt Manuel is West’s pitching ace, and the 3A state pitcher of the year in 2023. The senior is committed to pitch for N.C. State. He hurled a three-hitter on Friday, yielding merely one earned run. He contained Reynolds third baseman Hayden Craig, the football quarterback, among others. Manuel struck out eight Rockets in four innings, averaging two “K’s” per frame. The game ended two innings early due to the 10-run-lead slaughter rule.

Manuel said that he is throwing a slider more. “When they look for my ‘dead-red’ fastball, I can drop in a curveball or slider.” When not pitching, he is a strong-armed outfielder. He bats third.

He homered to tie it at 3 on Saturday. West led a see-saw game 4-3 in the sixth. But ACR rallied to win 5-4. As ACR head coach Michael Staicar described the final West out, leftfielder Sage Turner “slammed into the fence” to catch Amani Perin’s shot. Manuel had singled. Turner’s catch robbed West of a game-tying double.

Contributions Galore

“We continue to grow as a team,” Manuel said. “We’re nowhere near what we can be.” Mustached Falcon Bradley Clark said, “Everybody 1-9 (in the batting order) can hit it.”

A new star is freshman Jackson Stepp. He had three of West’s 12 hits Friday. Poised Stepp said that “you can’t get over-hyped” batting in pressure situations. “I stayed simple, and focused.” Senior lefty Eli Shinn and Stepp slugged back-to-back deep doubles that nearly smacked the right field fence, in the third inning. Shinn is among team batting average leaders.

West extended several rallies with two outs. “We kept hitting and scoring,” Shinn said. Senior catcher Perin chuckled and said, “When the runs started coming, they didn’t stop.” Perin blasted a long double on Friday.

West scored nine runs in the fourth, including on Jaylen Jackson’s sharp two-run single and when three batters were hit by pitches with the bases loaded. West “ran hard and manufactured runs,” working counts to draw walks or get favorable pitches to hit, Coach Corn said.

Fire Lit

Mason Coren pitched the fifth for West. The senior transfer from Erwin said that beating ACR feels extra “fulfilling.” Pitcher Grant Putnam senses team confidence soaring with each run scored. “We’re feeling it. You gotta play with confidence and for fun.”

There was an emotional repeat of a season ago, when ACR led West 6-0 early but got stomped 22-7. They lost 9-4 two games later, but pulled out the rematch this time.

Last Friday, “they were talking (trash) before the game,” Coren said. All-state shortstop Jack Lyda, the leadoff hitter, said it “lit a fire under us.” He said the Falcons mainly responded “on the scoreboard.” Coach Corn said chatter was “calm” on Saturday.

Scoring Even More Runs

Last season, the Falcons scored 15 or more runs three times. They thrashed Atkins 16-1 in a playoff opener. West went 27-5 and won six playoff rounds to seize the 3A title.

Amazingly, the Falcons are already erupting more often on the scoreboard. They scored in double digits in more than half (8 of 15) of their triumphs. They scored 15 runs or more in five victories, and at least 10 runs in three other wins. West pounded Smoky Mountain 19-1 and 15-0, routed HHS 15-3 and 15-6, won 15-2 at Pisgah, and beat ACR 16-1.

“I’m seeing the ball better coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” senior Jude Lyda said. He bats second. Coach Corn said, “Experience definitely helps in tougher situations. Players still feel urgency. But they’re less tense, and more relaxed.”

West lost 15-3 at home to 4A Roberson on March 13. Lefty Ryan Kasney started then, and versus ACR last Saturday. These powerhouses play at TCR on March 27 at 6 p.m. West concludes its regular season at rival North Henderson on April 30 and by hosting the Knights on May 2 — again starting at 7 p.m.