When Garner hosts Cardinal Gibbons Friday in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A baseball playoffs, Trojans coach Derik Goffena is looking for the same things he’s gotten all season from his young team that captured the Greater Neuse Conference title and produced a 5-4 first round win over Apex Tuesday afternoon at the new South Garner High School campus.
“With such a young team we’ve tried to keep things simple,” Goffena said. “We’re trying to score early, let our pitching keep us in the game, and play good defense. I guess those are things all team want to do. Sometimes youth can hurt you, but this group handled the situation of playing our first playoff game very well.”
Sophomore starter Brett Banks, junior reliever Chris Roddenberry, and freshman closer Nolan McLean did the mound duty against the Cougars and in round two Goffena expects a similar pattern.
“We could start any one of two or three guys and Roddenberry and McLean will both be available,” Goffena said. “McLean has really come on as our closer, especially in the second half of the season.”
McLean also starts the game at catcher and hits second in the lineup. He’s joined in the lineup by another freshman, second baseman Jackson Mitchell, who Goffena calls, “a difference maker on defense. He is fun to watch.”
Mitchell made several outstanding defensive plays, including two in the middle of the Cougars’ four-run fourth inning rally.
With a runner on third and the infield in, he snagged a hard hit ball and made a quick, perfect throw to the plate to get an out. Three batters later he made a diving catch to his left and turned to throw to second for a force out. Apex led 4-3 after the inning, but without Mitchell’s two gems the Trojans could have been down several runs.
“Defense has always been my strong point,” said Mitchell, who started the year on the JV team. “We’ve fought all year and things are coming around for us. Being in the playoffs is exciting, I couldn’t wait to play.”
While quality pitching and steady defense will be keys, timely hits count to.
“Xavier Bussey and Wellington Guzman were hitless until their last at bats when we got the winning run,” Goffena said. “Maybe being so young, our guys didn’t realize how big a playoff game is, especially against a good team like Apex. ... Apex is always good and Mike Valder is one of the most respected coaches around.”
Garner (18-7) jumped ahead 3-0 in the second. Junior center fielder Malik Stephens singled to start the rally. Senior Noah Giroux singled in one run and junior shortstop Tyler Gillespy delivered a two-run double.
For Apex (13-11), junior C.J. Conrad capped the Cougars’ four-run rally with a two-run single to put his team up 4-3 in the fourth inning, before Garner took the 5-4 lead in the sixth on senior Ryan Wheeler’s double, and singles by Bussey, senior Noah Gallogly, and Guzman.