Take away the fifth inning on Friday night and Alexander Central played Marvin Ridge to a 1-1 deadlock. But no eraser can wipe the slate or the scoreboard clean in the fifth inning when the Mavericks sent 11 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in an 8-1 decision over the Cougars.

“It just went south on us. We knew we were facing a good team,” Alexander Central coach Pete Hardee said. “They’re tough outs, everybody in their lineup is tough to get out. They showed that tonight. They don’t make mistakes in the field, they played tight defense and their pitcher threw a good game.”

It was pretty much the same recipe the Cougars have been using during a 12-game winning streak that took them into Friday’s round four game on their home field as a third seed and ranked eighth among North Carolina 3A teams.

“I’m proud of these guys for getting as far as we got. They played some good baseball,” Hardee said. “They’re high-character kids and that means more to me than the wins and losses. They’re a good bunch of guys and they do things right. It’s sad to see these seniors end up tonight, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.”

Marvin Ridge, the 10th seed and ranked fifth, threatened in the first and third innings before finally scoring a run in the fourth against Alexander Central starter Dawson Elder. With two outs and Michael Heal on second as a result of a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch, the No. 9 hitter in the Mavericks’ lineup, Michael Schwartz, drove a double to the fence in left as Marvin Ridge claimed a 1-0 lead.

The Cougars also threatened early with singles by Byron Younts and Bryson Hammer plus an outfield throwing error putting runners at second and third with just one out in the second inning. But Marvin Ridge starter Kyle McKernan got a big strikeout and although he gave up an opposite-field line drive off the bat of Kade Smith, it was right at Henry Jackson, the Mavericks’ right fielder.

The top of the fifth started innocently enough when Elder induced a ground ball to second for the initial out of the frame. But a free pass to the next batter, Elder’s fourth of the game, and another ball on the first pitch to the next Marvin Ridge batter brought an end to Elder’s night.

Maddox Kerley came on in relief for the Cougars, but he too struggled to find the key to the strike zone. A hit batter, three more walks and a hit were exacerbated by two Alexander Central errors.

Jeremy Simpson came on in relief of Kerley in hopes of getting the final out, but before that happened, the Mavericks got two more singles and the Cougars committed another error. By the time the dust settled and the scoreboard stopped blinking in the fifth inning, Marvin Ridge had scored seven runs on just three hits. Of those seven runs, only three were earned.

Alexander Central hadn’t allowed that many runs in an inning since the first game of the year – also in the fifth inning of an 11-4 loss to Mooresville.

“It’s just one of those innings,” Hardee said. “It’s tough.”

Down 8-0, the Cougars did get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth. Dalton Stikeleather got a two-out infield hit, was awarded second on a balk, stole third and came home on an errant throw.

Elder took the loss for Alexander Central and finished the season with a mark of 6-2. Stikeleather had two of the Cougars’ seven hits.

McKernan went 5.2 innings to get the win. He struck out six and walked three. Jackson had three base hits to lead the Mavericks. Schwartz had two hits, including the RBI double, and Matt Duggan had two singles.

Marvin Ridge improves to 24-5 and will next play Jesse Carson, a 10-0 winner over North Gaston.

The Cougars finished the season at 23-8. Conference runners-up, they also won the Easter Baseball Classic in April.

“We’re proud of what these guys did. It’s the first time we’ve been to the Final Four in maybe 26 years or something like that,” Hardee said. “It was good. I’m proud of what they did and the season that they had. I’m looking forward to next year.”

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