APEX — Panther Creek pitcher Josh Maciejewski had his best stuff, and Middle Creek’s batters didn’t want to see it for a full seven innings.
So they hacked away, fouling off pitch after pitch off in hopes that the longer their at-bats went, the more likely they were to to get on base against one of the conference’s most dominant pitchers. It worked.
After being no-hit for four innings, Middle Creek came back to defeat Panther Creek 4-3 on Tuesday.
“They made him throw a lot of pitches,” Panther Creek coach Daniel Hall said. “If they didn’t get a hit, sometimes they got a walk out of it. And if he got an out of it, they made him throw 10-12 pitches. He still had his good stuff. I think physically and mentally, when you’ve got guys battling at the plate like that, it gets to you a little bit.”
Turning point: Middle Creek (10-8, 5-5) scored three runs to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth thanks to four hits – two that didn’t leave the infield.
Maciejewski, who went the distance for the Catamounts, had struck out six batters through four innings when Justin Hagenberg led off the fifth with a single. After a bunt single from Sanni Ranna, the two runners advanced to second and third on a sac hit from Diego Guerrero.
In back-to-back at-bats, an infield single from Tyler Sholar drove in Hagenberg and Trevor Heasley’s double brought in Sholar and Ranna to tie the game at 3-all.
“I definitely had more confidence after that,” Heasley said. “Seeing him a few times, knowing what he had, helped.”
It came just in time for the Mustangs, after giving up two runs on an E6 and passed ball in the top of the fourth inning. Panther Creek’s third run came in the top of the fifth, when Nathaniel Lee singled in Jordan Hockaday.
“We find a way to keep ourselves in it, and it worked out for us,” said first-year Middle Creek coach Wesley King.
Putting up numbers: Maciejewski struck out 10 in six innings on the mound and notched a double (he scored on the Middle Creek error).
Middle Creek has two pitchers injured – Sammy Chapman and Jordan Towler – but the team’s mentality of “next man up” came into play.
“We kind of collectively tonight were able to piece it together and win it at the end,” King said.
Sholar started the game allowed just one earned run in 3 1/3 innings of work. Liam Brew faced two batters to close out the fourth.
Heasley worked through the fifth and sixth and faced one batter in the seventh inning. He allowing one run but getting out his first two innings with the bases loaded.
“Leaving those runners in scoring position is what hurt us. We had so many opportunities,” Hall said.
After Middle Creek took the lead in the bottom of the sixth with a RBI single from John D’ercole, Heasley gave up a leadoff double. Langdon Wilson came in and got the save by getting out three outs in three batters faced.
“We’ve been on and off. We’d win a game and lose a game. I think it’s good getting the momentum going with this week,” Wilson said.
Looking ahead: With only two weeks left in the season, each game is important. Panther Creek (10-8, 6-3) has a Friday game against Fuquay-Varina and next Tuesday’s doubleheader with Apex – picking up where the first meeting left off in the 11th inning – looms large.
Middle Creek’s road is easier than other teams fighting for the last three automatic bids (conference leader Green Hope has clinched a bid). The Mustangs have games with the bottom two teams – Cary and Athens Drive – but also play Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps