At least for this group of youngsters, South Johnston is now traveling in uncharted waters.
On Friday night at Bruce Coats Field, the Trojans banged out 10 hits, including five for extra bases, rolling over visiting Southwestern Randolph 13-7 in the fourth round of the state 3A playoffs.
The victory propelled the Trojans into the state’s Final Four for the first time since South Johnston finished second in 1996. South Johnston won its only state title in 1990.
“This feels really good,” said veteran South Johnston coach Keith Durham, whose team improved to 17-9 while the Cougars finished 14-11. “I could not be happier for how hard this group of kids has worked and come together. It’s been a great ride, and we’re not ready for it to be over yet.
“We’ve got to get back to work and get ready to go next week. The guys have really shown a lot of mental toughness in being able to answer people. They’ve done a great job of getting back off the canvas when they’ve been knocked down. We hit great tonight. Even some of the ones that weren’t hits, we barreled some balls right at people.”
Southwestern Randolph finished with six hits.
“We didn’t quit,” Cougar coach Tyler Clapp said. “I’m proud of the guys. Nobody expected us to be here, and I take full responsibility for not having the guys prepared the way they should have been.
“(South Johnston) swings the bat well. Our whole pitching staff was not on, and they just hit the ball. I don’t know if we’ve ever been this far, but it doesn’t really matter. This is kind of bittersweet, but I’m proud of each and every one of my guys.”
For South Johnston , it was one of those total team efforts.
Sophomore Joe Johnson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs including his ninth homer of the season and fourth in four playoff games. Catcher Zachary Bridges had a double, two singles and a walk; Joey Matthews added a double and four RBIs, and Drew Mustgrave chipped in a two-run double.
“I guess the intensity and the atmosphere and all the home games (three in the playoffs) have given us a big lift,” said Joe Johnson, a sophomore. “We’ve been taking advantage of it.
“I’ve just been swinging hard. I’m trying to work on the back side a lot. He hung one down the middle and I took advantage of it.”
Dillon Lee was the winning pitcher in relief of Colby Jones, who went four-plus innings and left with an 8-4 lead. Joe Johnson came on to face two batters and record the final out.
The Trojans jumped on Reece Daniel for three runs in the first on Matthews’ sacrifice fly and Mustgrave’s two-out double.
“We know we’re a good team,” Mustgrave said. “If we come out and do what we’ve got to do, we’re usually going to win. I’m just taking each plate appearance as a new opportunity and seeing what happens.”
The visitors tied the score in the second on a single from Landon Davis and a two-run double by Ryan Sineath.
But South, which scored runs in every inning but the second, took command with Bridges’ two-run double in the third.
Joe Johnson’s two-run homer in the fourth stretched the lead to 8-3. South Johnston added a run in the fifth and then four in the sixth, with Matthews’ three-run double the centerpiece of the rally.
“I had a 2-2 count and he left one high, and I took advantage of it,” Matthews said. “We were just feeling it tonight and making good contact, not swinging out of our shoes and focusing on base hits. It’s working for us.”
Southwestern Randolph got two runs in the seventh on a two-run homer from Jake Johnson, who finished with three RBI.