It’s funny how the tables can turn.
Trailing by three runs Tuesday, Fuquay-Varina rattled off four runs in the bottom half of the fourth inning to clip Harnett Central 6-5 in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A baseball playoffs. The Bengals will play host to Green Hope in the second round on Friday.
The big inning was ironic because, one year ago Wednesday, the Trojans (11-10) hung up nine runs in the fourth inning to eliminate Fuquay-Varina (19-6) from the first round. It was the only time in the past five years the Bengals failed to advance past the opening round.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth, Justin Shelton was hit by a pitch to force in a run, Austin Harris smoked a two-run single off the wall in left centerfield and with two outs, the winning run was scored when Brycen Braswell lofted a routine fly ball to left that was lost in the lights. Harris then slammed the door on the Trojans, allowing just one baserunner after taking over for starter Caleb Bissette in the fourth.
Despite the close result, both sides agreed the five errors, seven walks and two hit batsmen made for an unattractive.
“What I would say about this game is, we get to play another game,” Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter said. “It was one of the worst games we’ve played this year.”
Trojan coach Lance Honeycutt shared the same sentiment.
“We hurt ourselves,” he said. “Bad.”
It was Harnett Central though that hurt the Bengals with a pair of long balls to jump to an early lead.
After plating a run on a fielder’s choice in the first, Ethan Barry connected for a two-out solo homerun in the second inning and Daryl Johnson pulled the Trojans within a run when he ripped a three-run shot in the fourth after the Bengals committed a two-out error on a routine groundball.
“We’ve had trouble hitting with two outs all year. It was great to see it,” Honeycutt said. “Daryl has been seeing the ball and he’s red hot. The ball carried tonight and it showed. We hit the homeruns and had the momentum on our side and (Fuquay-Varina) just battled.”
Harnett Central couldn’t complete the comeback as Harris pitched to the final 11 batters and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base.
“He went in there and pumped the zone,” Honeycutt said. “When it mattered, he went out there and threw strikes for them.”
Fuquay-Varina scored on a second-inning throwing error and a deep sacrifice fly off the bat of Ryan Rizk in the third. Harnett Central starter Tyson Messer was chased during the big fourth inning in favor of Ian Jones.
The Bengals have won 10 straight games following a stint in which they lost four of six games.
“I think they’ve learned how to compete and that’s been the difference,” Senter said. “We lost I don’t know how many games when we were leading in the sixth inning early in the year. We’ve found a way to win those games now when we’re ahead and not give it up.”
Fuquay has won two of three matchups with co-Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champ Green Hope this year, including one for playoff seeding purposes.