Carson advances to winner's bracket final

Members of the Carson High School baseball team went to the prom on a happy note Saturday night.

The Senators made sure of that earlier in the afternoon, and by the way, they also moved to within one step of playing for the Northern 4A zone tournament championship with a second-round 10-1 triumph against Wooster at Ron McNutt Field.

Tony Faulkner and Nick Gitthens drove in three runs each and Ken Heald pitched a complete-game five-hitter as Carson (19-10) advanced into the winners bracket final at the double elimination tournament.

The Senators face regular season champion Reno on Thursday in a 7 p.m. contest at Carson High's McNutt Field, with the winner of that game moving on to the championship round. The two zone finalists also qualify for the NIAA/U.S. Bank 4A State Tournament May 18-20 in Henderson.

"I'm excited for the whole team," Carson coach Ron McNutt said. "It was prom day, and I told the kids it's going to be more enjoyable going after winning a ballgame than losing a ballgame. You want to be in a good mood - not sulking - and they took care of business."

Heald, who pitched a scoreless seventh to pick up a save in Carson's 5-4 opening round win over Sparks on Friday night, returned to the mound just 15 hours later and threw well in a starting role.

"I'm happy for Kenny Heald," McNutt said. "I think this was one of his better outings of the year. He threw seven strong innings, usually he has a breakdown here or there, and today he just pitched very well."

Heald (6-3) scattered five hits, walked three and struck out six. The senior right-hander worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth inning and then got a strikeout and comebacker to end the sixth with runners stranded on second and third.

"I wasn't feeling 110 percent today," Heald said. "I wasn't throwing hard like I normally do, but it was hard enough to keep them (swinging) late and to get some ground balls (nine groundouts).

"We played solid baseball today. Everyone was solid; we put 10 hits on the board and the defense was looking good."

This was against a Wooster team that scored four times in the top of the seventh to beat McQueen on Friday. And last year, the Colts came from the No. 6 seed and survived an opening round zone loss to go all the way to the finals.

"We always respect Wooster. Ron (Malcolm) does a great job over there," McNutt said. "We watched them come back in the last inning to beat McQueen yesterday, so we wanted to get up on them and keep after them, that's why we were bunting a lot. We were trying to get a runner to second, try to get him in and get as many runs as we could. And the kids executed pretty well."

Wooster scored its only run in the first inning after Derek McNeil drew a leadoff walk and came around to score on Charlie Geffert's single to center.

The Senators tied the score with one run in the bottom half of the first and scored twice in the third to take the lead for good. Carl Winter walked and scored on Tony Faulkner's sacrifice fly to give the Senators a 2-1 lead, and Chandler Allen dropped a single into center to bring Joe Mercer home.

Carson added four more runs in the fourth. Mercer singled one run home, then Gitthens came up as a pinch hitter and lined a single to center to drive in another run. Faulkner followed with a two-run single as the Senators pushed their lead to 7-1.

"Nick Gitthens came in and sparked us a little bit," McNutt said. "He's really helped in clutch situations a lot for us. He's a guy you can count on to put the ball in play."

Even though he has played primarily in a backup designated hitter and pinch hitter role this season, the junior got 42 at-bats during the conference season and hit .476 with 20 RBIs.

"Coach just puts me in sometimes when we need hits," Gitthens shrugged. "It's hard to try and concentrate through the whole game and then try to come in and get a big hit, but I try. I just like hitting."

And looking past the prom, the Senators are looking forward to their date with Reno on Thursday.

"Yeah, we got a little payback for them," Gitthens said. "They beat us twice (in the regular season). We want to get a win out of it, so we're looking forward to that. Everybody is."

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