BEAR CREEK — The pitch sped through the air on its way from the mound.
It crossed into the batter’s box, where the bat of Chatham Central senior Parker Crowley was waiting to introduce itself, …
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BEAR CREEK — The pitch sped through the air on its way from the mound.
It crossed into the batter’s box, where the bat of Chatham Central senior Parker Crowley was waiting to introduce itself, slicing it in the direction from which it came as it landed just in front of the outfield wall and rolled further away, escaping the centerfielder’s grasp.
A run made its way across home plate with ease while Crowley darted from base to base, sliding his way into third and avoiding the tag by mere milliseconds.
The senior’s RBI triple wasn’t the game-winning or go-ahead run — in fact, there were still two more innings to be played and the Bears were up by seven runs — but it was a play that felt like the final straw.
Crowley’s fifth-inning three-bagger — the third-straight Chatham Central at-bat that resulted in an RBI — gave the Bears a 10-3 lead over the Jordan-Matthews Jets, who they’d go on to defeat 11-6 on Tuesday, May 18, to extend their winning streak to four games.
As is commonplace for a game against J-M, the stands in Bear Creek were filled to the brim with excited spectators. Even if you couldn’t see it, you could feel it.
“J-M’s just always been J-M,” Michael Moore, senior starting pitcher for the Bears, said. “We know some of their guys, but when we’re out here playing, we don’t really like them very much historically, so that’s one game you don’t really have to try to get up for. You always have a lot of energy.”
Crowley’s triple was one thrilling moment on a night where they were plentiful for the Bears, one that also featured big hits, powerful strikeouts and, of course, on-base celebrations.
Central’s night at the plate can be defined using one word: productive.
All but one Bears batter reached base on the night by either hit, walk or error, totaling 21 baserunning opportunities; they capitalized on 10.
Most of the credit should be awarded to a few of Chatham Central’s hitters in particular, including sophomore Hasten T. Paige (3-for-4, 3 RBI), who followed up Crowley’s triple with an RBI single of his own for his third hit of the night. He hit singles in back-to-back-to-back innings, each of which scored runs.
Even as a sophomore, Paige was arguably the most reliable hitter for the Bears on Tuesday. When they needed one, he was their guy. As a five-hole hitter, he collected all three of his RBI singles with two outs, keeping innings alive and extending the lead.
“Hasten Paige had three hits with two outs, used the whole field and just really battled,” Brett Walden, Chatham Central’s head coach, said. “He’s a sophomore and he’s just really, really worked hard. He works hard when he’s not here and he’s just going to be a really good player for us. … He’s (also) a good outfielder and covers ground.”
Moore was another Bear that exceeded expectations against the Jets, playing a dominant game both at the plate and on the mound.
A day removed from competing as a quarterback in the Blue-Grey All-American game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — the Catawba-bound Moore had himself a night.
Moore thrived in the batter’s box, raking in two hits — both doubles — and reaching base twice on errors. He smoked a double deep to center field for his first hit in the opening inning, driving in junior Colin Lagenor for the game’s first run and giving the Bears a 1-0 lead.
His energy was infectious, letting out a celebration once he reached the bag on both of his doubles while his team loudly cheered him on from the dugout.
On May 13, his last game pitched before Tuesday, Moore threw a five-inning no-hitter in an 11-0 win over conference foe South Stanly, which paired nicely with his walk-off grand slam that triggered the 10-run mercy rule in the same game.
And as the Bears’ starting pitcher against the Jets, he still had some fuel left in the tank.
“I didn’t know (if he was going to pitch) — he said he was sore this morning — so I had a couple of different backup plans,” Walden said. “Then we get out here … and he said he felt good enough to go and after three (innings), he said, ‘Let me try one more.’ He gets another one, then he said, ‘Let me go one more.’”
Moore — a three-sport athlete that’s verbally committed to play football at Catawba — racked up eight strikeouts against the Jets despite being sore from his time in Dallas, allowing just two earned runs and using his dangerous curveball to methodically mow down batters in 4.2 innings pitched.
It wasn’t until the top of fifth inning when his exhaustion seemed to catch up with him, allowing a triple to J-M senior Huston Causey (3-for-4, 3B, RBI) and a subsequent RBI single to freshman Ian McMillan (1-for-4, RBI), cutting Central’s lead to 8-3.
Walden pulled him after the run scored, replacing him with sophomore Travis Crissman (2.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 K), who got the final out and pitched the last two innings, but Moore’s performance had its share of admirers.
“You watch him play football, you watch him play basketball, you watch him play baseball and I’ve watched him do all of those for fours years and he’s just a natural athlete with a very high acumen,” Walden said. “He kind of made a point to come in and, even with a condensed season, give it all he’s got.”
Moore’s father, Alan, added that he’s “never seen him throw it as hard as he did in the first inning.”
While the Jets put together a small rally in the sixth, scoring three runs thanks in part to a two-RBI single by senior Carson Rickman (1-for-4, 2 RBI), it wasn’t enough to climb out of the eight-run hole that the Bears had them in.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Chatham rivals.
After a 3-1 start to the year, J-M’s loss to Central marked its third-straight loss. Three days later, it was shutout for the first time this season against Southern Alamance, 8-0, increasing the losing streak to four and dropping the team’s record to 3-5.
“J-M’s not a bad team, not at all,” Walden said. “J-M is extremely well coached, I love coach (John) Headen, he’s a great guy. They’ve beat us three out of the last four, so we really wanted to get this one tonight.”
With the win, Central extended its winning streak to four games, a number that grew to five with a dominant 20-1 victory over the winless South Davidson Wildcats last Friday.
However, the Bears didn’t always look this good.
In the season-opener, Lee County trotted out senior N.C. State commit Carson Kelly, who one-hit the Bears, 9-0. Then, two games later, Central was blanked by Yadkin Valley opponent Uwharrie Charter, 11-0.
After a tough start to the season, the fact that the Bears are holding on to a 6-2 record after eight games almost feels like a miracle for Walden.
Now, the focus is on their chances to make the postseason with five games remaining.
“If you had told me they’d start 5-2 with this schedule, I would’ve said I’d take it,” Walden said. “I’m really proud of the work they’ve put in to be in this position. I just hate this condensed field for the playoffs because I think we’re playoff worthy, but with Uwharrie being at the top of our league, it may be hard to sneak in there. But we’ll give it our best shot.”