Crusaders take win in '24 season opener

Mar. 9—After starting the 2024 season with a tour of the Dominican Republic that included some contests against local teams, Grace Christian School's baseball team returned home and began its first NCISAA 3A baseball season with a dominating win Thursday night.

The Crusaders' Caleb Ellis pitched into the seventh inning of the team's home opener and struck out 11 Burlington Christian batters in a 7-0 victory for Grace, which was opening up a significantly remodeled Crusader Park and welcoming several newcomers to its roster and coaching staff.

Grace, which was the 2021 1A state runner-up, the 2022 1A champion, and went to the 2A final four in 2023, expects to contend for another title in its first season competing at the 3A level. They didn't do anything Thursday that would suggest they can't.

Ellis came about as close to a no-hitter as one can get. The sophomore threw 96 pitches, and the only hit he allowed was an infield single in the top of the seventh inning. He retired the next two batters, but then issued a walk on a full-count pitch. With his pitch limit looming, head coach Rob Wooten came out and put in fellow sophomore Landon McDonald to get the third out. McDonald struck out the only batter he faced on three pitches to end the game.

The Crusaders scored four times in the bottom half of the first inning, all after two were out. Burlington recorded two outs sandwiched around a walk to former Richmond Raider standout and Campbell University signee Camron Seagraves. With two down, Ellis came up and helped himself with a two-out single that moved Seagraves to third base. Seagraves scored on a passed ball, and then Connor Howard walked. A double by another newcomer, Alex Pena Jimenez, scored Howard moments after Ellis had stolen home.

With the score now 3-0, Ethan Bunce singled to center, driving in Pena Jimenez for a 4-0 lead.

Grace's Boaz Harper and Ellis led off the third with back-to-back singles, and both came in to score, Harper on a sacrifice fly from Pena Jimenez and Ellis on an RBI single from Bunce.

After Ellis struck out the side in the fourth, senior newcomer Isaiah Arevaldo led off the Grace half of the inning with a triple into right field, and scored the final run of the game on a groundout to first base by Matt Murchison.

The Crusaders had seven hits as a team, including two each by Ellis and Bunce. Pena Jimenez and Bunce each drove in two runs, while Ellis scored twice.

The Crusaders visited Charlotte Christian on Friday night and will return home to face North Raleigh Christian on Tuesday.