HOLLY SPRINGS — HOLLY SPRINGS The defending Tri-9 champion Green Hope Falcons stayed unbeaten by withstanding a late three-run rally for a 6-5 win Thursday night at Holly Springs.
The Falcons, who led 4-0 and 6-2 early on, entered the bottom of the seventh inning ahead by just a run after a pinch-hit two-RBI single by Holly Springs’ Matt Swartz-Vega in the bottom of the sixth.
But Green Hope senior reliever Luca Scelsi battled through a hamstring injury that was expected to keep him in the dugout to record the save. In the game’s final frame, Scelsi overcame a walk and a wild pitch that put Holly Springs starting pitcher Brian Fortier in scoring position with one out. With the pressure on, Scelsi delivered a strikeout and induced a soft grounder to first base to end the ballgame.
Unsung hero: Prior to the game, neither Scelsi nor Green Hope coach Michael Miragliuolo planned on Scelsi, who has an injured hamstring, pitching at all against Holly Springs, much less with the game on the line. But by crunch time, Scelsi felt good enough to take the mound.
“He’s still hurting a lot,” Miragliuolo said. “But then when he warmed up the last time and he came in (the dugout), he goes, ‘I’m good to go.’ I could tell he was fired up and focused. I didn’t hesitate and I pulled the trigger and went to him. He did exactly what he needed to do.”
Miragliuolo’s decision paid big dividends, as Scelsi recorded the final four outs of the evening for the Falcons.
Highlight reel: Ironically enough, in a game featuring costly fielding errors by both teams, the play of the evening came on the defensive side of the ball. After Holly Springs centerfielder Ryan Byrd drove in right fielder Andrew Elwell in the bottom of the fifth inning, Fortier stepped up to the plate with two outs and Byrd on second base.
A single to right field looked like it would make it 6-4. Instead, a stellar throw by Green Hope right fielder Chris Tutwiler, who also quarterbacks the Falcons’ football team, beat Byrd to home plate, and Falcons catcher Thomas Yoder tagged out a sliding Byrd to end the inning.
“It took a perfect throw and he got him,” Miragliuolo said. “That brought the momentum back in our favor.”
Needs Improvement: On a cold night that saw the temperature hover at or below 40 degrees, both teams left something to be desired in the field. Three Golden Hawks errors put them in a 4-0 hole after the first inning.
“It’s a tough start,” Holly Springs coach Rod Whitesell said. “I don’t really have an explanation. We dug ourselves a hole. I was proud of the way we fought back, but it was a tough first inning. Fortier’s going to have much better days than he had today, but we made so many mistakes behind him, it just made it really rough on him.”
In the fifth, a misplayed fly ball allowed Holly Springs right fielder Andrew Elwell to reach second base. Elwell crossed home plate just one batter later to make it 6-3.
“Both teams overcame some mistakes on a cold, wet night,” Miragliuolo said.
Going forward: Thursday night started a tough four-game stretch for the Falcons on a high note. Green Hope will take on Apex Friday, then face Fuquay-Varina next Tuesday and defending state champ Middle Creek next Friday.
“There’s not a team in the whole state of North Carolina that’s in a tougher four-game stretch than we have right now,” Miragliuolo said. “Within eight days, we’re playing four of the top teams in our conference.”
Best quote: “There was pain there. I just had to man up and do it for the team.”
Green Hope’s Scelsi, who fought through a hamstring injury to seal the victory from the mound in the sixth and seventh innings.