Diamond Rams, Cougars Battle For Supremacy This Week - TribPapers

Diamond Rams, Cougars Battle For Supremacy This Week

Asheville Cougar star junior Jay Secretarski slides in safely, in the 11-1 slaughter of Franklin. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Asheville – T.C. Roberson Rams tuned up for this week’s two-game league showdown with Asheville Cougars for the league baseball championship, by defeating West Henderson 4-2 at home on Saturday. This rematch was much closer than 4A reigning state champ Roberson’s 15-3 win at 3A defending champ West in mid-March. In this unnofficial WNC World Series of 2023-24, TCR batters faced not reigning 3A pitcher of the year Truitt Manuel but rather crafty lefty Ryan Kasney.

Beating Coach Jackie Corn, Jr.’s talented West (27-4) is an “impressive” rehearsal for Asheville this week and state playoffs, head coach Eric Filipek told his Rams post-victory. “You didn’t crumble; you didn’t crack under the pressure” of the marquee local matchup. As first baseman Caden Davidson told the Tribune, “We don’t fold. We don’t doubt ourselves” and the ability to rally to win.

Roberson (18-4; 9-1 MAC) led Asheville (13-8; 8-2) in 4A/3A Mountain Athletic Conference, heading into their clash on Tuesday. AHS and TCR play again at Roberson on Thursday, May 2, concluding the regular season.

Roberson needs to split with AHS to again win the MAC and top 4A playoff seeding. The Asheville rivalry “gets our blood going,” senior co-pitching ace and slugger Reno Jeter said.

Erwin (10-8; 4-6) edged TCR 5-4 on April 12. Top 3A MAC team A.C. Reynolds (11-10; 6-5) swept AHS 9-4 and 5-2 in late March. Thus, the Rams can thank arch-rival ACR for helping them stay alone in first place.

Timely Cougar Hitting

The Cougars must sweep Roberson this week to overtake them for the MAC title. Head coach Bill Hillier, Jr., has said that he relies on pitching, defense, and timely hitting. That formula worked when a seasoned Asheville (21-4; 11-1) squad won the MAC in 2022 by a game over TCR.

Cougar pitching ace Carter Burnette is a WCU recruit. Trent Maybin Ram super alumnus and recent major leaguer Cameron Maybin’s son. The sophomore doubled in an early run as AHS destroyed Franklin 11-1 on April 23. Senior Toby Wilson won that start, Asheville’s fourth win in a row by 11-1 or 10-1.

Cougar hitting standouts also include Hayes Hillier and Secretarski brothers Jay and Thomas. They are among underclassmen starters, on a squad with merely five seniors.

RAMming Rods

Roberson also relies mostly on underclassmen, with many junior third-year starters. The imposing Ram lineup often explodes for big innings, such as when scoring seven runs in the third to annihilate McDowell 15-4 on April 25.

In beating West on Saturday, leadoff batter Zeb Swangim doubled in three runs in the fourth inning. As last season’s playoff drive proved, Swangim often doubles in runs in critical at-bats. He said, “I try to step up.”

The Rams are even more confident in ‘24 after winning it all in 2023, Swangim said. “We have great leaders. We can beat anybody.” Pitcher C.J. Wallace said Ram’s competitive edge was further sharpened by beating Science Hill (Tenn.) and nearly beating Parkview (Ga.) in a recent tourney.

Pitching Depth

Swangim, the fiery junior third baseman, was among four pitchers that head coach Eric Filipek and pitching coach Shane Galloway deployed in the final three innings against West. Pitching depth is critical in playoffs, particularly the final two rounds which are best-of-three series, several Rams noted.

Roberson rode its lethal 1-2 starting pitching punch to the 4A title. Micah Simpson was the state finals MVP as a pitching and hitting hero. Lefty Simpson yielded a mere run and two hits as Roberson won 7-1 on April 6 at J.H. Rose, the 2023 3A state runner-up to West.

Jeter beat West twice in 2024 including on Saturday, a day after he turned 18. He doubled in the first Ram run, to deep center field. Jeter shut out West for four innings, yielding four hits overall and a run in the fifth on Jude Lyda’s deep double before reached the state-mandated pitch count.

Lanky Wallace relieved Jeter, and fanned a batter to squelch the rally. Jake Parham then Swangim also pitched. Last season, Parham’s brother Nick was the closer and shortstop with his brother Jake at second. Nick now stars for East Carolina. Jake wears his Ram no. 1, and starts at short. He is similarly steely-nerved.

Both TCR and West made defensive gems on Saturday. Parham ended the game when he quickly reached up for an amazing backhand spearing of Amani Perin’s sharp liner. Parham tossed to second base to double up the runner for the final out. Falcon left fielder Jude Lyda gunned out a runner at home. Center fielder Manuel made a superb diving catch.

West Henderson (9-1 Mtn 7) must beat North Henderson (16-6; 8-2) at least once this week, to fend off the Knights and Tuscola (16-5; 10-2) which split with West two weeks ago.