Millbrook pitcher Alex Royalty was not yet born in 1993, but the Wildcats’ junior right-hander was confident in his response after Friday’s 5-0 win over Panther Creek in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A baseball tournament.
“We’re feeling like the best team Millbrook has seen since ’93,” Royalty said. “It just feels really good taking my team to the regional finals, but not only that, taking my teammates to the regional finals.”
Millbrook (19-8) will face Richmond County in a best-of-3 series for the NCHSAA 4A East Regional finals. Millbrook last made the state regional final in 1993, when it fell to New Hanover. Back then, the regional final was the fourth round of the playoffs and a one-game round rather than a series.
Royalty threw a complete game Friday, striking out nine and allowing the visiting Catamounts three hits.
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“Millbrook outplayed us today,” Panther Creek coach Dan Hall said. “They pitched better than we did, they hit the ball better than we did and we made some mistakes that you can’t make in the playoffs. Their pitcher was outstanding, especially when they got a lead.”
The Wildcats scored two in the first. Spencer Williams showed patience at the plate against Panther Creek pitcher Jake Wilson, turning a 1-2 count into a walk to reach base with two outs.
Basil Rodts singled to advance Williams and both runners moved ahead on a passed ball before an Alex Richards single skipped over third base to score both runs.
The Wildcats added to their advantage in the second when Brian Miller singled to score Marcello Betances, again with two outs. Miller would later score on a Chris Scott single before the end of the frame.
Miller doubled to reach base in the fifth and scored on one of the Catamounts’ three errors for the final run of the game.
Panther Creek, in its first baseball playoff tournament in the school’s eight-year history, won seven straight games heading into Friday. The Catamounts (17-10) had never won more than seven games in a season before this year.
“We had a wonderful year,” Hall said. “The good thing about it is I think we’ve established a winning attitude in this program that they want to win and they want to go in the postseason and play in playoffs, and that’s something that hadn’t existed before now. That is a huge, huge growth of our program.
“We’ve got something now that these four seniors we’ve had have established and left for the program to build on. I can’t say enough of how much that means having come from where we’re at and where we’re at now.”
Friday was the third straight playoff win against a Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference team for the Wildcats, who also topped Apex and SWAC champion Green Hope. Panther Creek had knocked off two Cap Eight teams – Sanderson and Heritage in the previous rounds.
Millbrook, a No. 2 seed, will travel for two of the three regional games should the series go to three games against No. 1 Richmond County (20-6-1).
“We’re definitely going to miss the fans,” Royalty said. “The fans give us big support, but looking forward I see greatness for us, and we’re going to keep doing what we do no matter what field we play on. And as long as we keep pushing through one game at a time, we’ll be OK.”