Falcons, Rams Sweep Rivals to Again Win Their Leagues - TribPapers

Falcons, Rams Sweep Rivals to Again Win Their Leagues

West Henderson Falcons celebrate a home run by Truitt Manuel (10), who foot stomps along with Amani Perin (in catcher’s gear). West won 4-2 at North Henderson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Fruitland – West Henderson earned its third consecutive Mountain Seven regular season title by sweeping North Henderson, while Roberson repeated as 4A/3A Mountain Athletic Conference champion and top 4A MAC seed by beating 4A rival Asheville twice last week to conclude the regular season.

Roberson Rams (20-4; 11-1 MAC) won the league by three games. Asheville (13-10; 8-4) was the 2022 MAC champ.

Rams pitching stifled Cougar bats, allowing three total hits in two wins last week. TCR won 3-0 on April 30, as lefty Micah Simpson flashed his 2023 finals MVP two-way stardom. He homered and hurled a two-hit, complete game.

The Rams beat AHS 4-1 at home on May 2. Senior co-ace Reno Jeter and C.J. Wallace each pitched three shutout innings. Holt Gaston finished. Asheville pitched Emery Fischer-Schmidt and Leo Justen in game one, then Isiah Mingus and ace Carter Burnette.

Three 3A MAC teams made playoffs, which start this week. They are Enka (13-10; 7-5), and A.C. Reynolds (12-9; 7-5) and Erwin (12-9; 5-7) which split one-run wins last week.

Smashing Barriers

West Henderson won 4-2 in a see-saw battle with playoff-like intensity at NHHS’ valiant Knights (16-8; 8-4) on May 1. The Falcons beat them 10-0 at home a day later.

The Falcons proved that they will literally smash through walls to win. Swift left fielder Jude Lyda charged to his right and caught a fly ball in the first inning. His brisk momentum carried him through fencing, which gave way. He was uninjured, and hung onto the ball.

West might encounter NHHS and/or league runner-up Tuscola in playoffs. THS sophomore Amos Rich out-dueled West senior Mason Coren (7-1, 1.40 ERA), striking out 14 batters in a 4-0 win on April 23. But West got payback two days later, as Truitt Manuel (7-0, 0.68, 0.73 WHIP) fanned 14 Mountaineers. He struck out 12 Knight batters in a one-hitter on May 2. Manuel averages 2.1 strikeouts per inning.

“I’ve been locked in all year,” Manuel said. “Trying to get one percent better each day.”

The Falcons matched their 19-4 regular-season mark of 2023, and 11-1 title-winning league records of the past two seasons. They went 21-3 overall in 2022, winning the M7 by three games. In ‘23, they finished 27-5, including 8-1 in six triumphant playoff rounds.

Fierce Rivalry

Three-sport star Manuel considers it “always a tough game” versus the arch-rival Knights. “As a senior, beating these guys twice and clinching conference means a great deal.” Falcon head coach Jackie Corn starred as a NHHS first baseman. Corn said current Knights “can swing the bats.”

In the 4-2 victory, Manuel smashed a fastball over the right field fence for his fourth dinger of the year. That snapped a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning. The Falcons whooped it up, as Manuel jumped onto home plate and Amani Perin simultaneously stomped.

Manuel, the 3A state pitcher of the year in 2023, struck out two of three batters in the seventh and final NHHS at-bat. He can close on games he doesn’t start in playoffs.

Coach Corn credited “our (pitching) arms” for that 4-2 win. Logan Oliver pitched into the fourth inning. Frequent starter Coren (9-1) relieved him. He got a popout to end that inning, pitched a clean fifth, and yielded an unearned run in the sixth.

Knight left-handed sophomore Peyton Maybin pitched six innings. He had two hits. Alex Hannah pitched the seventh. Stash Spear is another leading Knight pitcher. Spear, Hannah, and leadoff hitter Mason Gasperson are juniors. NHHS has merely four seniors.

Blazing Basepaths

Fielding miscues were pivotal. “Heads-up base running” by the Falcons was decisive, said West’s Jude Lyda. He scored the winning run on an error. “We gotta be aggressive.” NHHS head coach Justin King cited “mistakes.” West Coach Corn told his players that “we made some big-time plays. But we gotta clean it up” defensively.

Senior Esteban Sanchez alertly scored both NHHS unearned runs. In the fourth inning, he tied the game 1-1 after NHHS loaded the bases. A high pitch deflected off catcher Perin’s mitt, and bounced off the backstop back over Perin’s head into the infield. Sanchez beat a high throw home to score from third. Two innings later, Sanchez tied it 2-2 on a shortstop error.

West responded with two runs in the seventh. NHHS catcher Gasperson misjudged and missed Jack Lyda’s popup. His rundown tag of Lyda (.411 BA), who stole second then third, prevented a go-ahead run. But Jude Lyda (.387) scored on an error. Perin (.362) walked in the final run for a 4-2 lead.

Left-center field was another nightmare zone for Knight fielders looking up into lights. This is the first season with lights on their field. NHHS outfielders evidently lost track of successive towering deep doubles by Perin and Brady Duvall, scoring the opening run in the fourth. Batters said early-evening sun shined in their eyes.