ZEBULON — Fuquay-Varina’s baseball team was used to bouncing back against any opponent, a testament to their best attribute – work ethic. But the Bengals came up short twice on Saturday in the 4A state championship series.
Entering the day with a 1-0 series lead, Fuquay was three outs away from the school’s second state championship in Game 2.
But the Bengals lost on back-to-back bunts 2-1, and so the second one-run win in the series forced the rubber game. In Game 3, the Bengals jumped out to a four-run lead but fell 7-4.
South Mecklenburg’s bats couldn’t be cooled in the deciding Game 3, and the Fuquay team that had always bounced back was defeated 2 games to 1.
“We gave it everything. We’ve got nothing left,” senior Garrett Suggs said. “I love these guys and I couldn’t ask for anything more. ... A couple plays here and there and we’re holding (the trophy) up.”
In Game 3, Fuquay-Varina (27-6) had tagged South Meck No. 3 starting pitcher Austin Wynn for one run in the first and three more in the second.
It was the largest lead by either team since South Mecklenburg (27-7) took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1, which Fuquay won 3-2 Friday night.
But South Meck answered against Fuquay-Varina No. 1 starter Brett Daniels. They cranked out 11 hits, all but one of those in Daniels’ five innings of work.
The Sabres scored four in the bottom of the second inning, one more in the third and two more in the fourth.
“His velocity was not bad, but he was having trouble locating his breaking balls and his offspeed pitches, and (South Meck) were really good fastball hitters,” Fuquay coach Milton Senter said.
Meanwhile, Wynn only allowed four hits in the final five innings, reminiscent of Fuquay No. 3 pitcher Jordan Bissette in Game 1.
Earlier in the day, Suggs got the start for Fuquay in Game 2, and for six innings the southpaw held them to no runs. Fuquay led 1-0 entering the bottom of the seventh.
“We probably needed to do a little more than get the one run to feel comfortable, but we just didn’t,” Senter said.
In the bottom of the seventh, South Meck’s leadoff hitter reached on a D.J. Burt error at shortstop. It was Fuquay’s first error of the game.
A single gave the Sabres runners on second and third with no outs, the batter reaching second on the outfield throw to third.
Fuquay brought in Daniels for Suggs, but South Meck won on back-to-back bunts by its eighth and ninth hitters. The first was a suicide squeeze and the second died in front of the plate where Fuquay had no play to prevent the walk-off.
“They executed it perfectly. There’s not a lot you can do about a suicide squeeze when it’s executed perfectly like it was,” said Senter, who has 575 career wins.
Fuquay had taken a lead in the top of the sixth on sacrifice fly from Nick Stuart that scored Burt. Stuart had also saved a run in the bottom of the second, throwing out a Sabres runner at the plate.
The Bengals stranded four runners in scoring position in Game 2, then four more in Game 3.
“We had the hits, we just didn’t have the number of RBIs that we needed to get them in,” Senter said.
The Bengals won the 2002 4A title and have now been runner-up in three more championship series. It was the third straight year where a team from the Tri-9 Conference appeared in the 4A title game.
“The pain will go away in a little while and they’ll think about it and they’ll realize they did something very special,” Senter said.
“Their work ethic was just off the chart. They were just good teammates to each other, no bickering, nobody whined, there was not a single person who complained about playing time. Everybody pulled for everybody else.”
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