MOORESVILLE — The Reagan baseball team had its back against the wall on Wednesday night after losing to Mooresville the night before in the first game of the best-of-3 NCHSAA Class 4-A Western Regional final.
Reagan gave up seven runs in the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 2 and was swept, losing 9-6.
Reagan finished the season 21-7. Mooresville (22-9) will advance to next week’s best-of-3 state championship series against either Holly Springs and Corinth Holders. Corinth Holders leads the Eastern Regional final series 1-0.
“Twenty-one wins, most in school history, reaching the regional finals, never been done before,” said Coach Gary Nail of Reagan. “So we set standards. We want to try and improve every year, take the program a little step further every year. And we did that with the things I just told you we accomplished.”
The same can be said for the Blue Devils and Coach Jeff Burchett, who’s coached there for 22 years.
“It’s the first time in school history as far as I’m aware of,” Burchett said of reaching the championship game. “It’s great. I went to school here, played baseball here, my son’s (Blake, shortstop) a senior here. It’s unbelievable.”
The Raiders jumped on Blue Devils starter Nick Merriman quickly, scoring a run in the first when C.J. Boyd came home on a single by Josh Hartle. The Raiders, leading 1-0, tacked on another in the second when Carter Boyd walked and Will Rice drove him in with a single.
Danny Beal, who started for the Raiders, cruised through the first three innings, but he ran into trouble in the seventh. He walked leadoff batter Davis Turner, and Ben Alford came in as a courtesy runner for Turner. Alford scored on a single by Merriman. Tafton Hensley tripled to drive in two runs for a 3-2 lead. Hensley scored on a groundout by Trevor McHouell to extend the lead to 4-2.
“The main things, his pitches, he was getting them elevated,” Nail said of Beal. “In the first three innings he was down, living around the knees and kind of changing eye levels at the same time. But then the fourth inning, he got his pitches up.”
Beal stayed in and Cameron Clonch launched a three-run homer over the high fence in right to push the lead to 7-2.
“I thought I was pitching pretty well up that point,” Beal said. “All the players were saying after I came out that I pitched really well. It’s just, I think I might’ve gotten tired, maybe. I wasn’t executing, wasn’t locating where my pitches should’ve been. But it’s props to them for taking advantage of my mistakes.”
Beal remained in to start the fifth and Quin Ferguson hit a solo homer to extend the lead to 8-2. Will Rice relieved Beal, but he walked Merriman, who scored on a bases-loaded walk by Blake Burchett to push the lead to 9-2.
“We didn’t have a guy totally ready,” Nail of said of the possibility of relieving Beal. “Plus, Danny’s our No. 2. Will (Rice) and C.J. (Boyd) threw the other night. They’re a little tired. Their arms are tired. Danny wasn’t. He was well rested from when he threw against (Charlotte) Myers Park (third round), so we felt like that was our best option.”
From there, it was all Merriman, a sophomore. He finished by giving up two runs on six hits with five strikeouts.
“Once I got that RBI, I knew we were going to have a big inning,” Merriman said. “And then Cam Clonch came up with that three-run home run, and we were up 7-2. At that point I knew I had to just throw my best. And if I kept putting zeros up on the board, I knew we would hang in there and we did throughout the whole game.”
Merriman retired the first batter of the seventh, but he had thrown 103 pitches and was relieved by Parker Manglass. Manglass walked the next two batters and Josh Hartle hit a three-run homer to trim the lead to 9-6. Jackson Reid came into pitch and Beal grounded out two batters later to end the game.
“This is the first time we’ve ever gotten to the final four,” Beal said. “It’s really tough having to go through this. We’re a really tight-knit group and this is the closest baseball team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Reagan 110 000 4 − 6 7 0
Mooresville 000 720 x − 9 9 0
Danny Beal, Will Rice (6), C.J. Boyd (7) and Colby Welborn; Nick Merriman, Parker Manglass (7), Jackson Reid (7) and Davis Turner. WP − Merriman. LP − Beal. SV − Reid. 2B − M: Quin Ferguson. 3B − M: Tafton Hensley. HR − R: Carter Boyd, Josh Hartle; M: Cameron Clonch, Quin Ferguson. Records − Reagan 21-7, Mooresville 22-9.