Grayson Lee seemed to bring the biggest bat to the rubber match between two Greater Neuse 4A baseball rivals on Friday night.
And that was very good news for Garner.
The senior catcher, bound for UNC Pembroke in the fall, blasted a two-run homer in the first inning and a three-run double in a wild seventh, lifting the No. 13 seed Trojans to a 7-6 victory over No. 4 seed West Johnston in the second round of the state playoffs.
“Grayson has been unbelievable at catcher all year, but he’s kind of struggled hitting,” Garner coach Derik Goffena said. “He’s come on lately and the five RBIs tonight were huge for us. We went with all seniors on the mound tonight, and those were the guys we were going to win or lose the game with.”
The victory earned the Trojans (16-6) a third-round home game against Wake county rival Millbrook. West finished the season at 17-6.
The two teams had split their regular-season meetings, with each prevailing on the road. Garner won 4-1 in eight innings on St. Patrick’s Day in Benson, while the Wildcats dropped the Trojans 9-3 on April 21 in Garner. (West won a coin flip for the No. 1 plaoyff seed from the conference.)
Kameron Harris was 2-for-3 with a double for the Trojans, who made the most of their seven hits.
West’s Garrett Giddens was 3-for-4 with an RBI while starting pitcher Cameron Meyers was 3-for-3.
The teams were tied 2-2 after six innings before Garner scored five in the top of the seventh and West responded with a four-run, five-hit effort in the bottom.
“Every time we play West it’s a battle,” Goffena said. “They whipped up on us pretty good at our place. A lot of these guys are friends. They know what we’re going to do and we know what they’re going to do, and it’s fun. Our goal when the season started was to make the playoffs, so to accomplish what we have has been great.”
Garner southpaw Alan Robinson went 5 1/3 in the no-decision, allowing five hits and striking out three with four walks before giving way to submariner Shane Ward. Wyatt Godwin got Ward out of a jam by striking out the last two in the sixth, then hung on against the Wildcat barrage in the seventh.
Meyers went six innings and allowed two runs on four hits, striking out seven against one walk.
West’s Dalton Mundy, who had gone the final seven innings in Tuesday’s 2-1, 14-inning decision over Greenville Rose, faced five batters and gave up five runs in the seventh while Tuesday’s starter Thomas Coggburn - who had gone seven innings himself - got two outs before giving up the bases-clearing double to Lee.
“Ninety-nine percent of the teams who gave up five runs in the top of the seventh would go 1-2-3 and go to the house,” West coach Joey Worley said. “These guys have persevered all year. We had to work our butts off to get here.
“These guys never gave up; we fought and fought and fought. We played well enough to win, but the breaks just worked against us tonight.”
Garner went up 2-0 in the first, as Cody Jones drew a two-out walk and then Lee launched a 1-0 pitch out of the park just inside the left-field pole.
“Those were probably the two biggest hits of my high school career,” Lee said. “But we wouldn’t have won that game if we hadn’t had three on (in the seventh) when I came to the plate. It was a team effort.
“Our defense has really been solid, and so has our pitching staff. Tonight we were a little shaky at times, but we pulled through.”
West cut the lead in half in the third, as Noah Liles drew a two-out walk and stole second before Tyler Tilson’s RBI single to right.
The Wildcats tied it in the sixth. Sterling Atkinson drew a leadoff walk before pinch runner Tre Frederick advanced on a balk. Frederick took third on Meyers’ bunt single before scoring on Dalton List’s grounder to second.
“I really thought we were going to win it,” the junior Meyers said. “It just didn’t fall our way this time. I was just trying to put the ball in play and hope I got there before the ball did.
“Playing for this team has been great. We’ve built a lot of relationships and we’re like a family.”
The seventh was about as wild a final inning as ever seen anywhere. Tyler Gillespy singled and stole second to start things for Garner, which took the lead on a bases-loaded walk to Logan Torruella before Trevor Blalock’s RBI single to end Mundy’s outing and bring on Coggburn.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t quit. Tyler McLamb had a two-run infield single, Giddens an RBI single and Tony Mack an RBI single before Noah Liles hit a fielder’s-choice ball to second for the third out.
“I like pitching in tough situations,” said the senior Godwin, who will pitch at Southeastern C.C. “Bases-loaded situations get me fired up.
“This season we started off kind of slow, but we found something that sparked us. Now it seems like we can’t stop winning.”