And then there were four.
A quartet of area baseball teams continue their chase for a state championship this week in the third round of the NCHSAA state playoffs. It’s business as usual for some, while others are attempting to continue historic runs.
Take a look at all four games scheduled to take place Tuesday evening:
4A: No. 4 South Caldwell vs. No. 5 Davie County, 6:30 p.m.
Playoff success has become the norm at South Caldwell, where the Spartans are two-time state champions (1982, 2007) and consistently advance to postseason play. Only seven other schools statewide had won as many playoff games as the Spartans’ 54 coming into this year.
But the third round has been their downfall of late, providing their exit in five of the past seven seasons. They will look to eclipse that plateau for the first time since 2016 against a Davie County team that is much better than its seeding suggests.
Despite their record, the War Eagles (16-9) came into the playoffs as the top-ranked team in 4A according to MaxPreps. That’s because they stood at 21-3 before it was determined they had used an ineligible player for six nonconference wins and those contests were changed to forfeit losses.
Regardless, it’s been a banner year for Davie County. The Central Piedmont 4A Conference regular-season champions earned a bye in the first round before beating No. 21 Grimsley 9-2, snapping a four-game playoff losing streak for the program dating to 2013.
South Caldwell (21-5) repeated as Northwestern 3A/4A Conference regular-season champions this year, and it’s the sixth time in eight seasons the Spartans have reached 20 or more wins. They also earned a first-round bye in the 4A playoffs before eliminating No. 13 Porter Ridge 4-2 in the second round.
Next up: No. 1 Myers Park or No. 8 Ronald Reagan
3A: No. 3 Alexander Central vs. No. 6 Cox Mill, 7 p.m.
Since longtime Watauga coach Pete Hardee came to Alexander Central four years ago, the Cougars have gone one round deeper in the state playoffs each season. They were eliminated in the first round in 2016, the second round in 2017 and the third round last year. They’ll have a chance to continue their progression toward a state championship Tuesday against a Cox Mill side that is in the midst of arguably its best season in program history.
Alexander Central (22-7) opened its postseason last week with a 3-2 victory over No. 30 North Iredell and followed that by beating No. 19 Cuthbertson 4-1. The third-seeded Cougars are currently riding an 11-game winning streak that already includes two titles - the Easter Baseball Classic and the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference tournament.
The Chargers (20-6) also have two championships this year after claiming the South Piedmont 3A Conference double by winning the league and the tournament. Basketball usually grabs the headlines at Cox Mill, but the baseball team is showing its chops as well with the program’s first-ever appearance in the third round of a state tournament. They got here by beating No. 27 South Iredell 2-0 in round one, then setting a season high in runs in a 19-12 victory over No. 11 East Rowan.
Next up: No. 2 Crest or No. 10 Marvin Ridge
2A: No. 2 North Lincoln vs. No. 23 West Stokes, 7 p.m.
A drop from the 3A classification has brought new postseason fortune to the North Lincoln baseball program. The Knights were 0-10 in state playoff competition, including a pair of first-round exits in 2016 and 2017, before moving to 2A to start the 2018 season. Not only did they record their first-ever playoff win last year, but they went all the way to the state semifinals before succumbing to Ledford Senior.
Hopes are high that the Knights (20-5) can get back there again – or go even further this time – but first they’ll have to get through upset-minded West Stokes. The Wildcats (16-10) won at No. 10 Chase 3-2 in the first round before holding off No. 26 Maiden 9-6 late last week. Their reward is a date with the co-South Fork 2A Conference champions in North Lincoln, who needed a seventh-inning rally to beat No. 31 Central Academy 5-4 before run-ruling No. 15 Wilkes Central 10-0 in five innings in the second round.
Next up: No. 3 West Wilkes or No. 11 North Davidson
2A: No. 13 West Lincoln vs. No. 28 Smoky Mountain, 5:30 p.m.
Upsets have been the name of the game for both West Lincoln and Smoky Mountain to get to the third round. The Rebels (19-7), who shared the South Fork regular-season championship with North Lincoln this year, earned a conventional 5-1 win over No. 20 South Point in the opening round. But then they went on the road and knocked off fourth-seeded Franklin 7-4 to advance to the third round for the first time since 2015.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs (13-9) have shown that they don’t care what their opponents are seeded. They opened the postseason by beating No. 5 Mount Pleasant 8-3 and followed with a 5-1 win at No. 12 North Surry. But current South Fork competition has been their playoff downfall lately. Lake Norman Charter knocked them out in the second round in both 2015 and 2017. And last year, it was North Lincoln who sent Smoky Mountain packing in a fourth-round defeat.
If the Rebels can continue that trend, they’ll reach 20 wins for the first time since 2016 and just the third time this decade. The Mustangs, however, beat West Lincoln in the most recent matchup between these two, a 6-1 victory in the fourth round of the 2013 playoffs.
Next up: No. 8 Madison or No. 17 Oak Grove