RALEIGH — Patrick LaGanke had seen the pitch before. And this time, when LaGanke saw the large 12-to-6 curveball from Wakefield reliever Evan Brabrand, the plate umpire didn't call strike three.
Yes, Brabrand's pitch did create the biggest reaction from the crowd at Millbrook High School, yet LaGanke, the Wildcats' left fielder, stood still in the batter's box. Two pitches later, LaGanke found himself in one of the best scenarios for a high school batter: bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 count, score tied, bottom of the sixth inning.
"I saw it break, but I knew it was off the plate," LaGanke said of Brabrand's curveball. "I knew he needed to throw a fastball."
LaGanke drove in two runs with a bouncing chopper that went over Wakefield third baseman Tyler Chestnut.
The 8-6 victory over Wakefield on Wednesday night was one that showed the continued improvement of the Wildcats (6-8, 4-5 Cap Eight 4-A) this season. Although Millbrook is fifth in the conference standings, the Wildcats are the only team in the Cap Eight to beat Wakefield (10-3, 7-2).
Just like their 5-4 win over the Wolverines earlier this season, this game had plenty of twists before LaGanke's final at-bat.
The Wildcats scored five runs in the second inning to take a 5-4 lead. Momentum turned quickly, though. Coach Josh Pardue replaced starting pitcher Will Moyer for Brian Nobles in the fourth inning.
Nobles hit his first batter and threw two wild pitches. Pardue left in Nobles, who was able to finish the inning, and the game, strong.
"He has a great presence about him," Pardue said of Nobles. "You might not see his best stuff, but that's not going to discourage him."
Wakefield eventually tied the score at 6-6 in the top of the sixth. Millbrook started its rally by having right fielder Zack Dixon and catcher Chris Davis beat out grounders that turned into errors. Then, the runners executed a double steal on Brabrand.
Even during LaGanke's at-bat, Brabrand threw a wild pitch off a slider that created a scoring opportunity for Dixon on third base. But Dixon didn't move.
"[Dixon] couldn't have scored on that because it was too close," LaGanke said.
Before LaGanke stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, Pardue gave him a message.
"I told him to be ready for these kind of situations because you usually only get one chance to break the game open," Pardue said. "He seized the moment."
LaGanke did, and unlike his two previous plate appearances, he was rounding first base instead of shaking his head to walk back to the dugout.
"I never lost faith in Patrick," said Nobles, who picked up the victory. "He's a good hitter with two outs, and I went crazy in the dugout when he got that hit."
So did LaGanke, who celebrated his 17th birthday with the clutch hit - his only one of the game.
"There's nothing like that," he said. "I had been terrible earlier, but that hit counters everything."
email@example.com or 919-829-4538