In essence, Havelock and West Craven played a playoff game on Friday at Havelock High.
Though it was a regular-season Coastal 3A Conference game, a loss would eliminate the Rams from playoff contention, while a victory would lock up a playoff spot for the Eagles.
With a playoff-type atmosphere, the game went extra innings, with Antony Rossi plating the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth as the Eagles won 2-1.
Havelock starter Josh Little got the first two Eagle hitters in the top of the ninth, but back-to-back errors put two runners aboard, and Rossi singled sharply to center, scoring Josh Pate to put West Craven on top.
“We did that with two outs, and that’s what this team is about,” West Craven coach Michael McKeel said. “They’re fighters, and we’re going to keep fighting, and hopefully something good is going to come out of it.”
Havelock showed some fight of its own in the bottom of the ninth when Austin Coley walked and Ryan Lewis reached on an error. However, Chris Toler chopped a ball back to West Craven pitcher Logan Nobles, who threw to first for the game’s final out.
Nobles pitched an inning to get the save, but starter Michael Coombs pitched eight, giving up a run on six hits while striking out 10.
“That guy pitched two games against us, and he’s tough,” Havelock coach Charlie Smith said of Coombs. “He doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. When you get chances, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”
Havelock’s big chance came in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied at 1-1. Coley singled and Justice Provencher was hit by a pitch. Lewis singled to right, but Eagles right-fielder Adam Stephens threw Coley out at the plate.
“They had a couple of hard-hit balls, but we played defense when we needed to,” McKeel said.
The Rams made four errors in the contest, while the Eagles (10-13, 5-8) made two.
“We made four errors and they didn’t make four errors,” Smith said of the difference in the game.
The long-time Havelock coach is planning to retire at the end of the school year, and Friday’s game was his last at home, along with seniors Pharoh Cooper, Michael Richards, Jalen Norris, Randy Gibson, Will Blythe, Donnie Richards, Kendal Vickers and Toler.
The Eagles scored first in the top of the third, getting an unearned run when Nobles reached on an infield hit, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error with two outs.
Havelock answered in the bottom half of the inning when Lewis doubled, went to third on Toler’s infield hit and scored on a balk.
The contest settled into a dual between Coombs and Little on the mound. Little surrendered seven singles and struck out 10 in nine innings. He didn’t give up an earned run.
“Josh pitched really well,” Smith said.
The loss for Havelock came on the heels of last week’s nine-inning setback to Jacksonville. Besides the extra inning losses, the Rams (9-14, 4-9) also had a one-run loss and two defeats by two runs in league play.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Smith, who was presented a plaque by the booster club commemorating his 300th coaching victory earlier this year against Washington before Friday’s contest. “Every game we’ve played in the conference has pretty much been close. We haven’t really been handled by anybody, though Conley is the cream of the crop.
“The last two home games have been a little tough to swallow, the extra-inning loss to Jacksonville and then the extra-inning loss tonight. The guys played hard, and that’s really all you can ask them.”
Havelock is scheduled to close out the season with a road contest at West Carteret at 7 p.m. on Monday.
The Eagles are scheduled to play at White Oak on Monday.