A showdown between UNC-bound senior Brett Daniels of Fuquay-Varina and N.C. State-bound junior Cole Hart of Harnett Central came down to one pivotal inning.
After three hitless innings, Harnett Central’s bats came out of nowhere to hang nine runs in the bottom of the fourth. They were the only runs the Trojans scored – or needed to score – en route to a 9-3 win in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs.
The big inning included 15 batters, seven hits – including five consecutively – and two errors.
“We’ve always done that. Since the season started, we’ve had pitchers come in who throw hard, and we see them the first time and we sort of feel it and we get used to it. I never count my hitters out,” second-year coach Lance Honeycutt said. “This is the first time we’ve won the in playoffs in a long time. It’s a testament to the guys because they work hard.”
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Fuquay (13-11) had six errors for the game, which was more than the host Trojans (16-5) needed to knock out the reigning 4A state runners-up.
Hart had five strikeouts, which doesn’t accurately describe how he frustrated the Bengals batters. His high fastball was too hard to lay off of. Even though the junior wasn’t accurate, his unique wind-up caused just enough deception.
“That’s typical Cole Hart right there,” Honeycutt said. “He gets away with some pitches up top because of his mechanics on the mound. You don’t have a better gamer than Cole Hart on the mound. He comes out and competes and he’s one of the most athletic players at his position.”
“They were chasing (high strikes) so I kept throwing them. I was trying to throw down the middle but it was going high and they were swinging. I was happy with that. It helped me,” Hart said. “I knew we had a chance to win. Everybody pulled through.”
Neither team had a hit until the fourth inning. Fuquay‘s Daniels lead off the top of the fourth with a double, but he didn’t score.
In the bottom half, Harnett Central’s Logan Ritchie, Hart and Trey Gledhill each had two RBIs apiece in the win. Ethan Barry, Cade Honeycutt each added one.
With the way Hart was pitching, it was all the Trojans needed.
“We didn’t make enough plays when we needed to,” “Early, we didn’t hit. We knew the guy was a good thrower but we knew he was a little wild too. I thought we chased some pitches that we shouldn’t have. We were a little anxious.
“Bottom line is, tonight they just did a better job of us. It’s kind of a hard game to explain. We didn’t make plays early, they did, and it just kind of snowballed in that one inning,” Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter said.
Fuquay-Varina added two more in the top of the fifth and one in the sixth – the three runs coming on an RBI from D.J. Burt, an error on a pick-off throw and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch to Aaron Ruble.
Senter said his seniors, who were important cogs to reaching the state title series last year, will be impossible to replace.
Daniels is going to North Carolina, Burt is likely going to the minor leagues and left-handed pitcher Jordan Bissette – who pitched in relief along with Chandler Jones – is going to N.C. State.
“We’re going to sorely miss the top four boys in the order (Burt, Daniels, Nick Yarborough and Bissette). We can’t replace them. We couldn’t replace the five we lost last year and we certainly will not be able to replace those four guys,” Senter said.