FOUR OAKS — Cody Allen pitched well enough to talk about himself and Will Raynor sliced enough balls into the gaps to do the same Saturday in the nightcap game of the opening round of the Johnston County Easter Invitational baseball tournament.
Neither one did, instead tabbing a first-inning double play turned by teammates Josh Stikeleather, Austin Pope and Will Dupree as the turning point of their 4-1 win against defending state 4A champion and defending event champion Middle Creek.
Allen limited the Mustangs (7-5) to a single run over six innings of work, while Raynor tripled, doubled and singled, scoring twice in the Trojans’ ninth win of the season.
“I started off throwing strikes and that’s what it’s all about,” Allen, a sophomore right-hander, said. “I knew my defense had my back with plays like the double play in the first inning.”
Added Raynor: “When we set our minds on something we can play pretty well. We had great pitching, played great defense. We made plays, like the double play in the first inning.”
After escaping the Middle Creek first inning without allowing a run, Raynor tripled into the right field corner and scored when the Mustangs couldn’t handle a two-out ground ball off Dupree’s bat.
Middle Creek (7-5, ranked ninth in the N&O area poll) pulled even in the fourth when Jake Benedict doubled and scored after a pair of groundouts by teammates, but the Trojans (9-3, ranked fifth) went back ahead in the bottom of the inning.
That’s when Ryan Perez doubled and scored, and South picked up another run when Josh Stikeleather’s groundball sent Ryan Underwood home.
Raynor scored again for South in the fifth, reaching on an infield single, stealing second, moving to third on a groundout and coming home on a wild pitch. He was 4-for-4 on the night with a triple, double and two runs scored.
“It seems to energize the whole team when I get an early hit like that (the first-inning triple) or someone else does,” Raynor said. “It gets us all going, shows us that we can hit the ball.”
Allen scattered seven Mustang hits over six innings, striking out two batters, before giving way to senior Lane Johnson in the seventh. Middle Creek put two runners on with two outs but Johnson got a strikeout to end the game.
“We started early this season finding ways to win games like this,” said South coach Keith Durham. “You have a different confidence in games like this when you’ve been in similar games before and succeeded.”
South will face the area’s 13th-ranked team in Corinth Holders in a semifinal Monday at 7:30. The Pirates (9-1) bounced back from their first loss of the season with an 8-4 decision over Johnston County rival Smithfield-Selma. Corey Shrik and Dakota Amant both had three-hit games.
The tournament field features four teams ranked in the N&O area top-15. Harnett Central, ranked eighth, beat Cleveland 6-4 in the tournament opener with the help of home runs from Trey Gledhill and Joshua Johnson.
Central (8-2) will meet Greater Neuse River 4A Conference rival Clayton at 5 Monday. The Comets (7-5), which beat Central earlier this season, won their sixth straight game, downing Hobbton behind a five-inning one-hitter from Michael Haddix. Haddix was also 3-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs.
Best: 919-524-8895; @dclaybest