DURHAM — Things could have been tense for Middle Creek as it approached Game 2 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A best-of-3 baseball series, needing a win to wrap up the school's first NCHSAA state championship in any sport.
But being uptight wouldn't be playing Middle Creek baseball. And it wouldn't be going with what had worked so well for the Mustangs all year.
Even when the score got close, in between innings a few players were moving to the beat of the PA music. The relaxed group whose only goal this season was to have fun playing the game are the 4A state champs after sweeping Cornelius Hough 10-4 on Saturday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
"I felt like we had it when everybody started hitting the ball and everybody started having fun. Nobody was worried. Nobody was sitting there thinking 'We've got to win this game.' Everybody was relaxed and having fun, keeping a loose environment," said senior Jimmy Boyd, who was named MVP of the series. Boyd reached base four times in seven plate appearances during the series and threw a 1-hitter in Game 1.
Middle Creek coach Jeremy Thompson was almost incredulous at what his group had done.
"I'm about in shock," Thompson said. "I'm just so happy for all these guys to come through as a family and as a team."
While Friday's Game 1, a 2-0 Middle Creek win, had few hits on either side, Saturday's contest brought out the offense from each.
Hough starter Brandon Gragilla was tagged for four hits and four earned runs in his 1 and 1/3 inning. In the first inning, Middle Creek right fielder David Salmon drove in two runners on a RBI single, while freshman shortstop Diego Guerrero had a RBI sacrifice fly.
A wild pitch scored Tyler Sholar from third base in the second inning, while catcher Austin Parker got an RBI on a fielder's choice.
Hough (23-12) cut into the Mustangs' 5-0 lead with three runs in the top of the third, even bringing the tying run to the plate. But Middle Creek (26-7) responded with two more runs in the bottom half of the inning, with runs coming on a RBI double by senior second baseman Colin Pelosi and pitcher Graham Edwards hit into a fielder's choice that was bobbled at home, allowing Pelosi to score and make it 7-3.
On the mound, Edwards never looked back after the third. He went the distance by giving up 10 hits, but he walked no one, struck out five and his defense turned two double plays.
While Hough -- which was riddled with six errors -- used four pitchers on the day, the Mustangs only needed two pitchers for the entire series.
Middle Creek tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single by sophomore third baseman Tyler Sholar, a sacrifice fly by junior center fielder Keenen Herring and a Parker hit into a Hough error that allowed senior Blake Hunley to score.
Seven Middle Creek batters drove in runs, and all nine, plus pinch hitter Alex Williams, reached base.
Like any sports team, the Middle Creek players had heard of the importance of being a cohesive unit. Now they believe it.
"It's so true," said Parker, a senior. "The closer you are to these guys, the more they have your back and more confidence you have going up to the plate and on the field."
A school that draws from seven different townships, Middle Creek had its community on Saturday as hundreds lined the first base side stands and filed in behind the plate. The town of Apex gave the team a police escort back to the school.
"Like we've said for a long time, it's one big happy family that just loves playing the game," Thompson said. "I'm sure we'll be happy and excited and enjoy it but it's also sad that we don't get to play anymore. They had a great time, they enjoyed the game, they did what they were supposed to do and the results showed."
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com@JMBpreps