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Pitching prowess pushes Pirates

Topsail's Aaron Banks is 3-1 on the season and second on the team in ERA - yet hasn't been involved in any of the team's four no-hitters this season. (Photo by StarNews file)

HAMPSTEAD | With a first-year head coach, a handful of young players and a 3-7 start to the season, the chances for the Topsail Pirates baseball team to make a run in the state playoffs seemed pretty slim.

On a seven-game winning streak heading into Friday’s third round of the Class 2A state tournament, the Pirates are suddenly peaking at the right time. Topsail outscored its opponents 61-12 in this winning streak and has won 13 of its past 15 games to claim an East Central Conference title.

“We’re definitely playing better than we did earlier in the year,” coach Granville Gehris said. “I still don’t think we’re playing our best, but we have been playing really well. Our pitching has really carried us over the last few games, and we’ve been able to get the bats going as well.”

The Pirates (16-9) have emerged after a tough early-season schedule and some bad breaks put them in a hole.

“I just don’t think they understood what was asked of them early on,” Gehris said. “But the potential was always there. We were playing well, but we just had some bad breaks. We got five runs off of Bryan Sammons, who’s one of the best pitchers in the area. We had New Hanover beat, but gave up three runs late. We also gave up 10 walks against Hoggard, so it wasn’t like they were tearing the cover off the ball. So we knew we were capable of beating anyone.”

The pitching staff has been the biggest catalyst in the Pirates’ turnaround. They have thrown four no-hitters this year and have a team ERA of 2.58. Palmer Rice threw one no-hitter on his own, while Clark Cota combined with Trent Hansley, his brother Bryce Cota, and Rice for the other three. Clark Cota leads the staff with a 6-2 record and a 1.15 ERA.

“In my time playing or coaching, I’ve never been a part of a team that has thrown four no-hitters in a season,” Gehris said. “That’s a pretty rare feat, and it just speaks to the work ethic of the guys that we have.”

That pitching staff will look to continue its dominance Friday against Eastern Randolph, which is coming off a 6-1 victory over Clinton on Tuesday.

“They play straight-up baseball,” said Gehris. “They have some quality arms on the mound, and it’s not a fluke that they’re in the third round. So it should be a good matchup for us.”

High School Playoffs

Friday's Schedule


Jacksonville at West Brunswick, 6 p.m.

Hoggard at Richmond, 6 p.m.

Eastern Randolph at Topsail, 7 p.m.

North Brunswick at Fairmont, 7 p.m.


Harrells Christian vs. Halifax Academy, 12:30 p.m.

Midway at Trask, 6 p.m.

Whiteville at South Lenoir, 6 p.m.

Eastern Randolph at West Bladen, 6 p.m.

Washington at West Brunswick, 6 p.m.

Girls Soccer

New Bern at New Hanover, 7 p.m.