In game of missed opportunities, Justin Shelton sure made the most of his.
The Fuquay-Varina junior outfielder belted a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday to lift the Bengals to a 5-1 victory over visiting Green Hope in the second round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs.
Fuquay-Varina (20-6) will play the winner of Cape Fear and Pine Forest in Tuesday’s third round.
Entering the bottom of the seventh, Green Hope’s Matt Duckworth and the Bengals’ Austin Harris had combined to allow just nine hits while striking out 13 in a 1-1 game and Fuquay-Varina had the bottom of the order coming to the plate.
But a leadoff walk to Brycen Braswell followed by a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout set up a runner in scoring position with two outs. Pinch-hitter Carter Hartgrove stroked the first pitch he saw into centerfield for a base hit but a strong throw by Green Hope’s Trevor Losito held Braswell at third. The Falcons then intentionally walked Caleb Bissette to load the bases for Shelton, who drove a 0-1 fastball over the high wall in left for his sixth homerun of the season.
“I knew all I needed was a base hit,” Shelton said. “I was just waiting on that fastball. I was getting curves a lot and that was the first one I got over the plate and I just hit it and hit it hard.”
Shelton finished with three of the Bengals’ seven hits including a third-inning double that scored Fuquay-Varina’s first run of the game.
The heroics were a strange twist of fate for the Falcons (20-7), who won their first-round game over Riverside on a walk-off double by Vincent Addona, who also singled home Green Hope’s lone run on Friday.
“Duckworth threw a lot of pitches but I kind of figured with the way he was pitching and being a senior, I’d leave it in his hands and Fuquay earned it,” Green Hope coach Michael Miragliuolo said. “I didn’t want it to end on a blooper or a wild pitch or something and (Shelton) hit it out so give him credit.”
Both pitchers only got better as the game progressed. Following a double to lead off the bottom of the fourth by the Bengals’ Ryan Rizk, the two pitchers combined to retire the next 19 batters (with nine strikeouts) until Braswell’s walk to begin the bottom of the seventh.
“Duckworth pitched a great game. I think he got a little tired and we took advantage,” Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter said.
As good as Duckworth had been, Harris was equally impressive, scattering four hits and three walks while striking out six in his seven innings of work.
All the drama was hardly a surprise to either coach however.
The teams have been champions or co-champions of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference in four of the last five years. This year they were co-champs. Friday’s meeting was the fourth between the two since April 6th.
“Typical type of game that we play with Green Hope. We get pretty used to it,” Senter said. “Just a great high school baseball game. They’ve got a great team.”
“In the 14 years I’ve been here, they’re now 18-17 against us,” Miragliuolo said. “And three times they’ve knocked us out of the playoffs.”
One of those games will no doubt stand out for Shelton, who described Friday as one of his best baseball moments.
“It’s up there,” he said. “Playoff game, walk-off grand slam. There’s not much more that can beat that.”