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Going the Distance

Baseball | Bunch pitches a complete game, Aces defeat West Columbus in third round | w/Video

John A. Holmes 4 West Columbus 2

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Edenton-John A. Holmes pitcher Caleb Bunch against West Columbus during the third round of the NCHSAA Class 1A baseball state playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at Hicks Field in Edenton. Edenton won 4-2.

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By Malcolm Shields
Sports Editor

Thursday, May 16, 2019

EDENTON — John A. Holmes starting pitcher Caleb Bunch pitched a complete game as the Aces defeated West Columbus 4-2 Tuesday night in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 1A baseball state playoffs at Hicks Field.

Bunch held West Columbus (17-7), the No. 6 seed in the Class 1A East Regional and defending 1A East Regional champions, to six hits over seven innings of work on the mound and registered nine strikeouts for the win.

Entering the top of the seventh, John A. Holmes coach Robert Jordan had a decision to make.

Does Bunch go back to the mound?

In the previous inning, West Columbus scored two runs during the frame against Bunch.

One of the runs scored on a RBI double by Cole Benton to make it a 4-2 contest.

With the sophomore doing just enough to get out of the sixth, Jordan decided to keep Bunch, a right hander, in the game.

Bunch would reward his coach as Bunch retired the Vikings in order — which included back-to-back strikeouts — to end the game.

“What he showed [Tuesday night] in the seventh inning — a bulldog came out of him,” Jordan said of Bunch. “He wasn't going to have anyone else come into the game. He dominated that last inning.”

Jordan noted that Ryan White was waiting in the wings to relieve Bunch just in case. 

The coach believed that Bunch may have picked up the velocity on his pitches in the final inning.

“That's the way to close out a game,” Jordan said.

Bunch was also able to escape a tight situation with Vikings on second and third with two out.

He was able to force a groundout to end the West Columbus scoring threat.

The Aces (18-7) the No. 3 seed in the regional, opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning.

After Parker Clayton reached base on a leadoff walk, senior shortstop Chace Kelly would bring home Clayton on a RBI double to give the Aces a 1-0 lead.

Kelly would score later in the inning from third base on a wild pitch by West Columbus starting pitcher Cody Benton.

The Vikings’ starting pitcher went four innings and struck out eight Edenton batters.

The Aces kept the pressure on the Vikings on the base paths as Edenton had multiple stolen bases.

Edenton took a 3-0 lead following a wild pitch that allowed Kelly to score from third.

He had reached base in the inning on a single.

Kelly went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt and two runs scored in the game.

“Chace is one of our two seniors and we talked about it all year about senior leadership from Wes [Privott] and Chace,” Jordan said. “They have provided great senior leadership.”

Jordan praised Kelly for rising to the occasion against the Vikings not only at the plate, but on the bases.

“He created a lot of havoc with his speed,” Jordan said.

With runners at first and third with two out, the Aces added a run in the fifth on a RBI single to left field by Chris Morris.

John A. Holmes will travel to Goldsboro to face No. 2 seed Rosewood (20-3) in the fourth round of the state playoffs Friday at 6 p.m.

The winner earns a trip to next week's Class 1A East Regional Final best-of-three series.

Jordan acknowledged that for this team, which has a majority of sophomores and juniors, to reach the fourth round is a confidence boost.

“We've had a similar group three years ago that advanced and made a run,” Jordan said.

The 2016 Aces advanced to the NCHSAA Class 2A East Regional Final series, but lost to the then defending regional champion South Granville.

The next season, Edenton won the Class 2A state championship.

“This group reminds me a lot of those guys,” Jordan said. “We're out here trying to make a run. That group had two seniors on it and this group has two seniors on it... Hopefully we can see similar success.”

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