Eagles take tough loss to North Johnston, 9-8

KENLY — It was certainly an ending not worthy of its beginning Saturday, when an interference call in the top of the seventh negated an East Bladen rally and helped lead to a 9-8 loss to North Johnston in the second round of the state’s Class 2-A playoffs.

The loss ended the Eagles’ season at 15-7.

The Panthers opened the game with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, but East Bladen flexed its muscle in the top of the second by batting around and scoring six runs.

Greyson Heustess got it all started when he reached on an error ahead of walks to Spencer Scott and Shy Pone that perched Eagles on every base. Sincere Smith reached on another North Johnston error that plated a run and a fly ball from Kyle Tatum was dropped to send another runner home, knotting the game at 2-2.

A bases-loaded walk to Xavier Wooten forced home the go-ahead run moments later and Brooks McGill laced a two-run single for a 5-3 edge. Huestess then ripped an RBI double to give East Bladen a 6-2 lead.

The Eagles tacked on a run in the third inning when Scott singled and Pone crushed a run-scoring double for a 7-2 advantage.

The Panthers began chipping away in the fourth frame.

Three singles, a fielder’s choice and an East Bladen error allowed North Johnston to plate two runs and cut the deficit to 7-4.

The Eagles got one of those runs back in the top of the fifth inning when Dan Tatum doubled and, with two outs, Smith stroked an RBI single to push the lead to 8-4.

North Johnston answered with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, taking advantage of five walks and closing to within 8-7.

But East Bladen didn’t appear done.

Panther pitching allowed three walks in the top of the sixth to fill the bags with Eagles, but managed to escape any damage.

North Johnston began its winning rally in the home half of the sixth — fueled by four walks, two wild pitches and a single — carrying a 9-8 lead into the top of the seventh.

East Bladen got a lead-off walk from Pone, but his attempt to steal second was disallowed when an interference call on the batter erased the advancement. Kyle Tatum laced a two-out hit tat potentially could have knotted the game if the steal was successful, but instead the Panthers escaped the inning without any further damage.

East Bladen used four pitchers in the game and, combined, gave up eight hits and 10 walks.

At the plate, the Eagles’ seven-hit attack was led by McGill with a two-run single, Pone’s RBI double, Heustess’ RBI double and a double from Dan Tatum.