MATTHEWS – Covenant Day coach David Houseton said the final three games the Lions played during the regular season have them ready to make some noise as they enter the playoffs this week.
The Lions opened a two-game set with Country Day at home on April 23, but too many mistakes led to a 4-0 Bucs win.
Houseton said that loss left a bad taste in his team’s mouth and when they traveled to Country Day three days later, his team responded.
Jon Rossi got the Lion offense going in the first inning with a two-run double and Covenant Day added two more runs in the third and one in the fifth but broke the game open in the sixth inning.
There, doubles by Ben Walton and Cooper Andrews and a Rossi homer added four more to the tally, giving the Lions a 9-0 lead.
Philip Abner got the win, going 5.2 innings while allowing just two hits and striking out 12.
Jackson Bertelsen pitched the final 1.1 innings in the 9-2 win.
On April 30, the Lions opened a two-game series with Charlotte
Christian, Houseton’s alma mater.
The Knights scored two in the third and three in the fifth inning to chase Covenant Day starter Robert Stone, who allowed four hits, five runs and struck out four batters.
But the Lion bats would heat up in the bottom of the fifth inning as Andrews, Abner, Bertelsen and Stone each had RBIs in the inning, which tied the score at 5.
It would stay there until the eighth inning, when Rossi allowed the winning walk-off single and a 6-5 extra-inning win for Charlotte Christian.
“We made too many mistakes in that game. We had baserunning mistakes, we went to back pick a runner on second and threw it into centerfield and that led to a run. We had some walks, and they just gritted it out,” Houseton said. “But right now, this is probably the best team I’ve had as far as they’ve arrived. They feel like they can play with guys.”
In the regular season finale, it was a different story for Covenant Day.
Facing all-state pitcher and Coastal Carolina commit in Charlotte Christian ace lefty JT Killen, the Lions were more than up to the task as they scored once in the second and four times in the third.
“We did a good job of displaying patience,” Houseton said. “(Killen) can get out of the zone and sped up. We were patient and forced him to throw some extra pitches and we had some timely hits. Good teams find those timely hits and we were able to do that.”
Abner doubled and Stone drove in two to highlight Covenant Day’s big inning and that was more than enough for Abner, who was sensational.
Through 6.2 innings, he allowed four hits and just two runs while striking out 15 batters. Bertelsen got the final out to preserve the 5-2 win and get the save.
“(Abner’s) control was on point,” Houseton said. “That’s a deal-breaker if you can take 15 of those 21 outs, and you eliminate Christian getting on base because once they get on base you have problems on your hands.”
Since 2010, the Lions had been just 1-15 against the Knights before their 5-2 win which also snapped a string of 11 straight losses in the series dating back to 2014.
But to Houseton, it’s validation that his program is trending in the right direction.
“After 10 years being at Covenant Day and the way our culture is, I think we’re pressing right at the point where we can be serious contenders,” he said. “We have good talent at the middle school level. They’re staying at Covenant Day, and we have great leadership and culture here. My guys feel like they belong, and they’re looking forward to the playoffs. I’m hoping right now we continue to play well. We have depth as far as pitching, and we can be dangerous if we can swing the bats. We have really good defense, and that’s the big deal for us.”