Zach Dixon’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning capitalized a wild comeback by the Wildcats in an 8-7 win over visiting Apex in the third round of the 4A NCHSAA baseball playoffs.
The ‘Cardiac Cats’ trailed 7-2 in the sixth inning before scratching out a run in the bottom of the inning, and then following it up with four more runs in the seventh with two outs.
“He’s been hot. He’s been our leadoff hitter the last two seasons. He’s comfortable in that position,” Millbrook head coach, Josh Pardue said of Dixon’s game-winning hit.
Millbrook (17-7) started the seventh with back-to-back hits, but Brian Nobles was thrown out advancing to second. The next batter flied out, before Chandler Burris run-scoring double. The Wildcats followed with another walk, chasing reliever Austin Debevec. Keaton Oaks entered in relief but surrendered two straight run-scoring hits – the last to Brandyn Johnson whose grounder up the middle scored two to tie the game at 7-7. Left-hander Matt Tenuta reentered the game for Apex to get the final out.
“We loosened up and nobody was pressing. No reason to try and make anything happen on one swing,” Pardue said of the seventh. “We get a walk, a hit, and start piecing things together. Before you know it, it’s tied up.”
Millbrook looked loose to start the game with runs in the first and second innings off Apex’s Camby Abell for a 2-0 lead. Then things got tight in the middle innings with Nobles on the mound. The Wildcats committed three errors that led to 6 unearned runs for Apex.
Apex (14-11) took advantage of the Wildcat miscues. The Cougars scored five runs in the third inning. Chris Denison reached on a fielder’s error to start the inning and was followed by a pop out before Apex mustered a walk and three straight singles to tie the game 2-2. Then Apex got an RBI sac-fly followed by a line drive by Alex Yarem that was misjudged by the outfielder and off his glove allowing two runs to score and give the Cougars a 5-2 lead.
Apex tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning. A one out walk and an error set up a two-run hit by Yarem for the 7-2 lead.
Tenuta, who entered in the third inning to pitch for Apex, was keeping the Wildcat hitters off balance with his breaking ball.
Patrick Laganke entered in the sixth inning for Nobles who allowed seven runs but only one earned. The senior, Laganke picked up the win pitching the final five innings for the Wildcats. Laganke struck out six and allowed only one hit while scattering three walks. Apex’s only threat in extra innings was Jake Tart reaching third base with two outs in the top of the 11th, but Laganke retired the next batter to set up Dixon’s heroics.
“We finally have them healthy,” Pardue said of Nobles and Laganke. “Obviously if it hadn’t been for them we wouldn’t have been in that game,” Pardue added.
In the bottom of the 11th, Oaks was pitching for Apex who reentered in the tenth inning. Burris reached on a fielder’s error. David Tart was intentionally walked. Laganke bunted by the runner was forced out at third. The third baseman, Yarem tried to make a play on Laganke running to first but the ball sailed wide and runners advanced to second and third.
The next batter, Ryan Bargoil was intentionally walked to load the bases and put on the force. Johnson’s chopper at the next at bat was fielded beautifully by the first baseman who forced the runner out at home. That brought up Dixon with bases loaded and two outs. Dixon lined Oaks’ pitch over the leftfielder’s head to score the winning run.
“Give a lot of credit to Apex. They did everything they could. It just happened – one bounce, one ball went our way,” Pardue said.
Millbrook will play at Middle Creek Tuesday night in the 4A East semifinals.