TCR Reaches Elite Eight With Ramming Rod Bats - TribPapers
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TCR Reaches Elite Eight With Ramming Rod Bats

Caden Davidson rumbles home for TCR as WFHS star catcher Will Holden IV watches his throw to third base get mishandled. Roberson head coach Eric Filipek watches, as the third base coach. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Skyland – West Region top seed Roberson (24-4; 11-1 MAC), the Mountain Athletic Conference champion, battles Charlotte Catholic (23-8) in a best-of-three series this week.

Roberson is eager to count its state baseball titles on two hands, not one. Its five titles are in 1983, 2000, 2002, 2017 and 2023.

The Rams had two shutouts and two close final scores in 2024 earlier rounds. They blanked Northern Guilford 6-0, fought off Weddington 4-2, and shut out Ragsdale 7-0.

Last Friday, they hung on to beat West Forysth (23-7) 8-5. Caged up during an hour rain delay, TCR blasted the Titans with a titanic seven-run first inning.

Several Rams said that the eventual cliffhanger fuels their competitive drive. “It make us better,” third baseman Zeb Swangim said. Winning it all a season ago primed TCR for more “pressure situations” in 2024 playoffs, shortstop and fellow junior Jake Parham said. Senior Reno Jeter said, “We compete!”

The Rams relish pressure of defending the state crown, after winning it as a lower-seed underdog. Wallace noted, “We got hot at the right time.” More dominant in 2024, TCR clinched the MAC regular-season crown with a 3-0 shutout at Asheville April 30. Micah Simpson hurled a two-hit complete game.

In playoffs, 4A Asheville (14-11; 8-4) and 3A A.C. Reynolds (13-12; 7-5) each won once.

After Roberson held off West Forsyth, TCR head coach Eric Filipek said in the post-win huddle that “you freakin’ did it! We learned (overcoming four errors and four hitless innings) — from a ‘W’” (win). TCR went hitless and committed four errors in middle innings.

A 7-2 lead shrank to 7-5 on one play. Landon Church doubled in leadoff hitters Jack Vest and sophomore Wake Forest recruit William “Will” Holden IV. Church scored on a throwing error on the play. After a throw home to try to nail Holden, the relay back to second base was high. The Titan dugout came alive.

But Reno Jeter’s sacrifice fly in the sixth expanded the lead to three runs, the final margin, after singles by Caden Davidson and Simpson. TCR hung on.

Befuddling, Huddling

Ram starter Simpson was the 2023 4A Finals’ MVP for his pitching and hitting heroics. He batted well Friday. He contained WFHS, yielding two runs in the first four innings.

He mostly befuddled them, striking out four Titans. “I didn’t see a thing,” East Carolina-bound Vest said in his dugout after the game’s first at-bat. Brayden Seeley later remarked, “I can’t see his fastball.” Simpson shields the ball well in his windup.

He also deceptively hesitates his delivery in varying degrees. Further, Simpson “changes speeds” of pitches drastically, Lucas Alderman told fellow Titans. Simpson said, “I’m messing with their (swing) timing.”

Right after Simpson fanned huge slugger Holden, a travel ball teammate, several Rams shouted “overrated!” Simpson noted, “I know what he likes” to swing at.

Roberson had defensive gems. The final out came as lanky closer C.J. Wallace speared a sharp liner. He instinctively thrust his mitt down and leftward, barely detecting the ball’s path. “I just stuck my glove out. It’s crazy!”

Pitching coach Shane Galloway counseled Wallace after the junior got behind Mason Ridings 3-0 to start the final inning. Wallace threw three straight strikes to strike out Ridings. He tossed one and two-thirds shutout innings.

“Coach told me to dig deep, to know strikes were coming out of my hand,” Wallace said. Galloway said, “He seemed to throw those first three pitches with doubt, without conviction. I told him with us ahead by three, the only way they’d beat him is if he walked people.” Vest got on via an error. But Wallace got Holden to ground out to first baseman Davidson, then caught the liner to end the game.

Wallace got a celebratory ice water bath from Coach Filipek. That is TCR’s new ritual. Last year, the game MVP got a pie in the face. Filipek chose Simpson and Davidson as other game standouts.

Seven-run Heaven

Several Rams contributed. Coach Filipek called the seven-run first inning “our best inning all year.” Down 1-0, the Rams batted one and a half times through their lineup in their first at-bat. Leadoff men Swangim and Parham singled. They scored on cleanup hitter Simpson’s double to right field.

The wackiest run came next, on a botched rundown of Davidson. He scored when catcher Holden’s throw back to third base was muffed.

J.T. Smith singled down the left field line to score Simpson, for a 4-1 lead. Freshman Parker Filipek’s bunt single reloaded the bases, setting up Chappy Smith’s sacrifice fly. Filipek and Smith made a double steal. They scored the final runs in the inning. Three Titan errors helped.

Coach Filipek reasons that “after that ‘seven-spot,’ we got so excited” and overconfident. “We lost momentum. But we got it back.”