Baseball playoffs: Millbrook has pitching; South Johnston has hitting

tstevens@newsobserver.comMay 26, 2014 

The most telling statistic for Millbrook High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball playoffs is complete games.

The starting pitcher for the Wildcats (19-8) has thrown a complete game in every playoff game so far.

Gunner Deal, 7-2 this season, allowed five hits in a 7-4 playoff-opening victory over Northern Durham and gave up eight hits in a 2-1 win over Apex in the third game of the playoffs.

Alex Royalty (7-1) had a five-hit 4-2 victory over Green Hope in the second round and came back with a three-hit 5-0 victory over Panther Creek last Friday.

“They have been unbelievable in the playoffs,” said Millbrook coach Austin James. “But really they’ve been outstanding all season. Plus, I’ve got a lot of confidence in Chris Scott, our third pitcher. We just haven’t had to use him so far in the playoffs.”

Millbrook begins a best-of-three regional championship series against Richmond County (21-6-1) on Tuesday night in Rockingham at 7 p.m. The series is scheduled to return to Millbrook on Thursday and go back, if needed, to Rockingham on Friday.

Millbrook entered the playoffs on a two-game losing streak and the Wildcats’ pitching looked suspect in a 9-3 loss to Leesville Road and a 7-1 setback to Sanderson.

But since then, Deal and Royalty have been dominating and the Millbrook attack has been timely.

“We’ve been pretty crafty getting runs,” James said. “We’ve been able to score enough.”

Shortstop Brian Miller, a UNC Asheville recruit, has been leading the attack.

“Right now, the baseball looks like a beach ball when he goes to the plate,” James said. “He has been carrying us some offensively. He is hitting it solidly and with his speed it has been hard for people get him out.”

James is in his second year as the varsity coached, but worked with most of the seniors for two years when he was the junior-varsity coach.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever have the experience with a group of guys again,” he said. “It has been so amazing to watch them mature. We have been telling them after every game to make sure they take time to enjoy it and then start focusing on the next game.”

Richmond has been scoring runs in the playoffs. The Raiders beat West Johnston 6-3 in the playoff opener and stopped Greenville Conley 6-2 in the second round.

Richmond rallied to defeat South Central Pitt 4-3 before completing the Greenville-area sweep with an 8-4 win over Greenville Rose on Saturday night.

Trojans face Topsail: South Johnston and Hampstead Topsail are a pair of unlikely 3A semifinalists. Their two-of-three series is scheduled for Tuesday at Topsail and on Thursday at South. A third game will be played if necessary.

Topsail (17-8) is averaging 2.7 runs in the playoffs, but that has been enough. The Pirates opened the playoffs with a 5-1 win over West Carteret and topped Wilson Fike 3-1. They escaped Wilson Hunt 2-1 and shut out Pikeville Aycock 1-0 on Saturday as Trent Hansley struck out 14 and hit a home run.

South (17-9) opened the playoffs with a super-hero type game by Joe Johnson, who hit two home runs and struck 13 in a 3-0 win over Northern Vance. The Trojans followed with a 7-4 win over Western Alamance, a 6-4 win over Northern Guilford and a 13-7 victory over Southwestern Randolph.

“There really hasn’t been one big factor for us in the playoffs,” said Jeremy Byrd, a South assistant athletics director. “We’ve had an offensive explosive. We’re just hitting the ball well. And defensively, we are playing extremely well.

“The defense is really making the plays and our offense is putting some runs up.”

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