MATTHEWS — For the second straight season, the Scotland baseball team held a late lead in a North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoff game.
And for a second year in a row, the Scots were eliminated on a walk-off hit.
A game-ending RBI single from Tate Pennington lifted No. 15 Butler to a 5-4 victory over No. 18 Scotland Tuesday in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs. The Bulldogs scored runs in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to rally from a 4-3 deficit and advance to the second round.
Butler (20-6) led for most of the game after scoring a trio of runs in the first inning, but Scotland (16-8) slowly chipped away and eventually took the lead in the top of the sixth.
The Bulldogs tied the contest in the bottom of the frame when Luke Novak notched an RBI single, then Pennington drilled the winning hit facing two outs with the bases loaded off Scotland pitcher Daly Marcano.
“I just said we need to slow down a little bit, take a breath, we talked about when the game gets quicker you need to slow down,” said Butler head coach Rick Sambrotto, who gathered his team after Scotland rallied to take the sixth-inning lead. “I think Tate was just enough on time to hit the ball hard down the line.”
For Scotland and head coach Chad Hill, the loss served as a grueling reminder of how narrow the gap is between surviving and advancing or being sent home for the season.
“Everything’s a little magnified in the playoffs because it’s one and done,” Hill said. “You’ve got to them give them credit, they kept battling and made it into a good game.”
Butler jumped out to an early 3-0 advantage, scoring all of the runs off Scots starter Justin Ingram. Facing two outs, five straight Bulldogs reached base to help the hosts crack the scoreboard. A two-RBI single from Pennington got the Bulldogs going, then Kobe Phillips reached home on a passed ball.
Sambrotto said he noticed how young Scotland’s roster was when scouting his opponent, and said grabbing the lead in the early going was emphasized. What he didn’t like was how his squad went through a lull for a period of time afterword.
“I kind of thought if we could get them down a little bit, we could play from ahead and be a little bit better and we didn’t capitalize,” Sambrotto said. “We didn’t have a good approach at the plate in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning, but we were better in the last inning.”
After Butler scored three off Ingram, Hill inserted Matthew Hyatt on the mound and the sophomore responded to pitch 4 2/3 shutout innings as Scotland fought its way back. Cross Holfert hit an RBI double in the top of the third to put the Scots on the board, then Bryan Baines added an RBI single to cut it to 3-2.
Scotland had a chance to do further damage in the top of the fifth as the visitors from Laurinburg loaded the bases. But McKenzie White, who singled and scored a run in the fourth, struck out swinging to end the frame.
“The scouting report on (Butler) was that they could darn swing it,” Hill said. “Matthew Hyatt came in and did an outstanding job for us — we didn’t think we were going to shut them out for six more innings, that’s for sure, we were kind of thinking seven runs might win the ballgame. We didn’t do some things on our end, we left some runs out there, and it’s part of baseball.”
The Scots continued to put pressure on the Bulldogs with their bats, though, and the Butler defense made a critical error in the top of the sixth. Nic Charleson hit a sharp ground ball to third, and though Davon Ratliffe was tagged out by the time he reached base, Butler committed an error trying to throw out Charleson which allowed Donta Green to score after he started the play at first.
One batter later, Justin Bowers smacked a liner to right right field that plated Charleson and gave Scotland the lead.
It was a short-lived moment for the Scots, however, as Butler knotted it at 4-all in the bottom of the frame. Pennington reached base on a dropped third strike, and he eventually crossed home plate when Novak singled.
Scotland stranded White on second base in the top of the seventh, then Butler secured the thrilling win moments later. Jared Birnberg singled, then after the Scots recorded two outs, Dean Looney walked to put two runners on. Phillips was hit by a Marcano pitch to load the bases, then Pennington capped the game with the RBI single.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.