Senior left-handers Josh Maciejewski of Panther Creek and Brighton Hudson of Garner locked up in a scoreless pitcher’s duel for four innings on Tuesday in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
It was tense playoff baseball. Every pitch and every out were important as both teams tried to break through against the other team’s talented pitcher.
Panther Creek was the first to get on the board, scoring a fifth-inning run on a single and some aggressive baserunning. The Catamounts added three more runs in the sixth, and Maciejewski was simply too tough for the Trojans to crack as Panther Creek scored a 4-0 victory.
The Catamounts (15-9), the second-place team in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, were making the first playoff appearance in the eight-year history of the school. Maciejewski made sure it was a memorable one, pitching a two-hitter with no walks and 11 strikeouts.
“That is as good as we have seen him all year simply because of the number of strikes he threw,” Panther Creek coach Dan Hall said. “I can only remember one full count, maybe two. That is probably the most effective I have seen him as far as getting ahead this year. He has had other good outings but this was one where he was really locked in.
“He picked a good time to do it.”
Maciejewski were to a 3-2 count twice in the game, getting strikeouts each time.
Both pitchers had to pitch out of jams in the second inning, with each team getting runners on second and third with no outs.
Maciejewski (5-2) struck out three straight Trojans in the top of the second to get out of his situation.
Hudson (7-3) got a strikeout and two groundball outs to keep the game scoreless.
From that point on, Maciejewski was in charge. The lefty with a good slider and a fastball that was hitting the upper 80s retired 15 straight Garner batters from the second through the sixth.
Hudson, meanwhile, was giving up a hit in each inning but keeping the Catamounts off the board until the fifth.
Panther Creek’s Michael Harr led off the Catamount fifth with an infield single and went to second on a bunt. Pinch runner Ben LaSpaluto came in for Harr and made something happen with some daring baserunning.
When Wilson Jolly struck out on a pitch in the dirt, Garner catcher Grayson Lee looked LaSpaluto back to second then threw down to first to complete the strikeout for the second out of the inning. LaSpaluto broke for third on the play and appeared to be caught in between second and third but Garner’s throw across the diamond was wide of third base and the speedy pinch runner sprinted home to give Panther Creek a 1-0 lead.
“We put in a pinch runner in because we felt like if we could get a run it would energize our group and would certainly energize Josh,” Hall said. “He got caught in between but he is a playmaker kind of kid. He forced the throw. He has done that all year long.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Trevor Howard led off with a single and Maciejewski followed with his third hit of the game. Nathan Lee then ripped an RBI double down the third-base line. After Hudson struck out the next two batters, Harr had a two-run single to center field to make it 4-0.
For Maciejewski, it was a dream day. He had his best outing of the season and went 3-for-3 for the Catamounts in the first playoff game in school history.
“I didn’t want to let them score,” Maciejewski said. “That run in the fifth helped out a lot. I just got locked in and tried to stay ahead of them.”
Garner, the third-place team from the Greater Neuse River Conference, finished the season 14-10.
“When they scored the unearned run in the fifth, the way both guys were pitching, I think it did a little something to everyone,” Garner coach Derik Goffena said. “Their kid threw great.
“All year our biggest weakness has been our hitting. We have pitched well, we have fielded well. But our hitting has struggled all year and the way he pitched today, he was able to expose some of those weaknesses.”
Panther Creek got 10 hits off of Hudson, who struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. Hudson ended his high school career with a 22-3 record.
In addition to Maciejewski’s three hits, Harr and Lee had two hits each for the Catamounts – who kept putting the bat on the ball until the runs finally came against the gritty Hudson.
“We are very calm in our demeanor, very calm in our approach,” Hall said. “They don’t feel like they have to get all their runs early or all their runs late. If it comes, it comes.”