ERWIN — Cleveland was involved in one of the finest pitchers’ duels you’ll ever see in a high school baseball game Thursday night.
But the Rams were taking little consolation in that as they saw their season come to a painful end.
Every run was scored in the sixth inning as host and top-seeded Triton topped the No. 4 seed Rams 2-1 in the semifinals of the inaugural Two Rivers 3A Tournament. The win boosted the Hawks into the title game Saturday night against visiting No. 2 seed South Johnston.
Triton, which is 9-1 at home this season and is a conference regular-season champion for the first time in 20 years, improved to 15-5 while the Rams finished 11-12. In its fourth year as a school, Cleveland has not yet qualified for a state 3A baseball tournament.
“Both pitchers toed it up and went after the batters,” Cleveland coach Jamie Lee said. “Everybody was having trouble getting hits.
“We’ve played good baseball since mid-season. We came to here about a month ago and had a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting after a bad loss. The first time through the conference we were 1-4 and the second time we were 4-1. I don’t think anybody wanted to play us for the last couple weeks. Tonight we came out on the short end in a great game.”
Both Cleveland southpaw Patrick Banks and Triton’s Trent Fennell, both seniors, pitched complete games.
Fennell allowed the run on four hits while striking out eight against three walks. Banks gave up four hits – all after facing the minimum through four innings – and struck out two while walking three.
“Any time you put yourself into a situation you can win a championship you’re excited about it,” said Triton coach Joey Miriello, whose team beat Cleveland three times this season. “We won the regular season and now we can put the cherry on top of the cake. These are things they can tell their grandchildren about.
“(Fennell) was unbelievable tonight but he has been all year. As soon as he steps on the mound he’s a bulldog. He pounds the strike zone, you have to hit him to beat him and he’s got electric stuff.”
Banks allowed only one baserunner through four innings before Austin Lee broke up the no-hitter with a single to lead off the third. That was when he walked Houston Hamilton with one out in the third and picked him off second to end the inning.
“My fastball and curve were working pretty well,” said Banks, who plans to play at St. Petersburg J.C. in Florida. “We just kept fighting tonight like we had the second half of the season. We came together and played great.
“We just had trouble with Triton this season. They’re a tough team, but they’re beatable. They were just a little luckier than we were tonight.”
Meanwhile the Rams, who loaded the bases with two out in the first on an error and two walks before Fennell got a ground ball to get out of the jam, were going down quickly as well. The only other Cleveland baserunner before the sixth inning was Chase Jackson, who led off the third with a bunt single and stole second.
“My defense behind me was as big as me throwing strikes,” said Fennell, who will pitch for Barton next season. “And my breaking ball was good. With the way (Banks) was pitching, I had a lot of adrenaline going.”
Cleveland scored in the sixth as Jackson led off with a single up the middle, advanced on Trevor Poole’s bunt, took third on a balk and scored on freshman Tyler Keenan’s single up the middle.
“I was hoping that hit was going to win it,” Keenan said. “We had Patrick on the mound and good defense going. This was probably the best game I’ve ever played in. We’ll come back and get them next year.”
Triton then scored two in the sixth. With one out and Hamilton on first, Tyler Vaughn knocked a grounder up the middle which hit Hamilton for the second out with Vaughn credited with a single. Vaughn then stole second and continued to third on a throwing error before Tyler Tyndall walked. Brett McLamb tied it with a single to left, and Lee then brought Tyndall home with what proved to be the winner with another single to left.