ERWIN — Keith Durham decided to accentuate the positive after South Johnston came up short in its most important baseball game so far this season on Saturday night.
The Trojans almost got embarrassed, but they came back from a big early deficit to at least make the inaugural Two Rivers 3A title game at Triton a little bit interesting.
South trailed by seven runs after the first inning, but managed to cut the deficit to three and once got the tying run on deck, but came up short in a 13-9 loss to the Hawks.
It was the Trojans’ third meeting of the season with their rivals from Harnett County, with whom they had split a pair of regular-season contests.
Triton, which is a conference champion for the first time in 20 years, is 16-5 while the Trojans are 13-9 entering the state playoffs.
“I’m real proud of the guys for not laying down,” Durham said. “It would have been real easy going down seven runs in the first to just pack it in. But we showed a lot of heart and a lot of fight.
“Unfortunately we gave Triton too many extra outs and opportunities, and you can’t do that against good teams and expect to win. But if you’d told me coming into the game we’d score nine runs I would have expected us to win.”
Triton, which finished with 10 hits as did South, took a 7-0 lead after the first inning and then hung on for dear life as the Trojans cut the margin to 9-6 after 2 1/2 innings.
“The first (dunking) was the initial shock and the second one about did me in,” Triton coach Joey Miriello said following post-game drenchings from his players. “But that was one of the best feelings I’ve had as a coach, that’s for sure.
“We won the ball game because of the way we swung the bats. And South did not give up. Tip your hats to them for that.”
Freshman southpaw Aaron Hedgepeth went six innings in victory before Tanner McLeod came on in the seventh.
South used four pitchers.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but I just kept battling and battling and got through it,” Hedgepeth said. “I was hoping I’d be able to finish the game, but my pitch count was up. I’m a little sore, but after I go home and ice I’ll be fine.”
Houston Hamilton led the winners at the plate with a solo homer, a double and a pair of walks. Todd Penny added a double and a single with four RBI, while Austin Lee doubled and singled.
Catcher Zach Bridges had a seventh-inning solo homer and a pair of singles for two RBI and a stolen base for South. Nate Johnson and Cody Allen each singled twice with an RBI.
“I just put a good swing on that one,” Bridges said. “We’re a strong team, and when we keep our focus we play good baseball.”
Josh Stikeleather was 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and a stolen base and was South’s final pitcher.
“This game was intense,” Stikeleather said. “There was a lot of tension out there because it’s a big rivalry. We’re scrappy and we don’t quit.”