New Hanover baseball cruises into fourth round of 3A playoffs

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The target on the New Hanover baseball team’s back keeps getting bigger and bigger.

It doesn’t seem to bother the top-seeded Wildcats, who continued their postseason dominance with a convincing 7-1 victory over No. 8 Southeast Guilford on Tuesday night in the third round of the 3A playoffs.

Senior southpaw Blake Walston pitched six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and Chase Nixon drove in four runs to put the defending state champions back in the fourth round for the third year in a row.

New Hanover senior Blake Walston finished with 10 strikeouts in six innings. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

“It was a great overall game for us,” Nixon said. “We had a lot of good at bats and Blake was dominant.”

A familiar opponent awaits Friday night when New Hanover (23-1) host No. 4 Terry Sanford at a time yet to be determined. The teams met in the East Regional series a season ago with New Hanover winning in a decisive third game.

“We’re very excited, but it’s a new year,” senior catcher Kyle Smith said. “Everyone knows what happened last year, but we’re a new team and they’re a new team. We’re going to try to come out and continue doing what we’ve been doing.”

Smith provided Walston with some early run support with a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the first. He also singled home Jac Croom in the fifth inning and added two walks.

Nixon hit an opposite-field two-run double in the fourth inning to increase the lead to 4-0 and then hit a single up the middle past the drawn-in infield to score two more runs an inning later.

“It has been an absolute blast and an honor to play on this team,” Nixon said. “We’re all so close and it’s a great environment to be in.”

New Hanover’s Chase Nixon drove in four runs. [Tim Hower/Coastal Preps]

The top four hitters in the Wildcats’ lineup – Croom, Walston, Smith and Alex Sniffen – reached base a combined 10 times and scored six runs. The other run was scored by Riley Estes, who courtesy ran for Walston following a walk in the fifth inning.

Walston struck out two hitters in five of his six innings and allowed only three hits. He faced a bases loaded jam in the second inning before striking out Adrian Medina looking.

“Blake keeps his focus really well no matter what happens,” Smith said. “He walked a few guys tonight, but he was able to bounce back and throw strikes and that’s what got us through those innings.”

Southeast Guilford (20-8) had two runners on in the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn’t score. They stranded a total of 10 runners.

Senior Ryan Douglas had two of the Falcons’ three hits and also had the lone RBI on a bases loaded walk in the seventh inning.