The Leesville Road, Fuquay-Varina, Northern Durham and Millbrook baseball teams were a combined 12-18 on April 1.
On the day when foolishness is encouraged, declaring that all four would be in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A quarterfinals might have seemed like a good joke.
But the four teams have long since overcome their early season sputters. Millbrook plays at Leesville on Friday with the winner headed to a best-of-3 state semifinal.
Northern Durham will go to Fuquay-Varina with the other semifinal spot on the line.
Eventually, one of the four will play for the state title.
Leesville Road (17-8) might be the most unlikely of the four to still be playing. The Pride was 1-8 on April Fools’ Day. It has run off 16 straight wins, claiming the Cap Eight 4A regular-season title in the process.
Among the Pride’s victories are 9-1 and 16-0 win over Millbrook (17-9), which is 12-5 since the start of April.
Northern Durham (17-7) has won 14 of its last 17, including a clutch 4-1 win at Winterville Conley on Tuesday night.
Fuquay (21-6) didn’t play often early in the season as veteran coach Milton Senter stressed practicing. The Bengals have won 18 of their last 22.
Northern vs. Fuquay
Northern Durham coach Greg Pruitt said his club’s early-season record was a product of playing nonconference games against good teams. Plus, the Knights start four sophomores.
“We are young, but we’re talented,” he said. “We’ve gotten strong pitching in the playoffs.”
Adam Riddle, who threw a complete game in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Winterville Conley, is the ace with a 6-2 record and a 1.36 ERA. He has 66 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings.
Griffin Baker, who will start against Fuquay, missed part of the season with a nerve problem in his elbow, but threw 5 2/3 innings in a 6-3 second-round win over Middle Creek last week. The Mustangs had beaten Northern 5-3 and 10-6 during the regular season. Baker is 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA.
Northern also hits well and has a .335 overall team batting average. Sophomore Spencer Smith (.508) has five home runs. Sophomore Luke Fenlon (.426) and A.J. Bumpass (.380) are key hitters.
Fuquay is hitting .321 as a team, and junior Caleb Bissette leads with a .453 average. Junior Justin Shelton (.394) has 26 RBIs, and sophomore Ryan Rizk (.358) has another 24.
Bissette (5-0, 1.94 ERA) took the win in Tuesday’s 9-0 victory over Fayetteville Cape Fear. Junior Austin Harris is 7-0 with a 1.63 ERA.
Millbrook vs. Leesville
Millbrook coach Austin James has a quick explanation for the two lopsided losses to Leesville.
“It just so happens that our two worst played games of the year were against Leesville, which is in large part due to how strong they are as a team,” James said. “The first outing, we had three errors in the first four at-bats. The second game, our pitching staff ran out of gas during a tough conference week.
“I am confident in the way we are playing now, and look forward to putting up a much better performance against a very good team, a well-coached team.”
Wildcats ace Alex Royalty (7-1, 1.70 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings) will start against the Pride, but Reid Herring (6-4, 2.33 ERA, 64 strikeouts) has won two of the three playoff games.
The hitting is coming up strong. Bryce Carnevale has five hits in three playoff wins. Scott McKeon and Royalty have come through with big and Zach Abdou has several key RBIs.
James has been pleased with the defense.
Leesville Road was 1-8 after a brutal early-season nonconference schedule but has won 17 straight.
Coach Guy Civitello said he never doubted the team could be good and didn’t sense the team was losing confidence, even after the early setbacks. Four of the losses were to out-of-state teams in a national tournament.
Andrew Papp has been huge for the Pride in the playoffs. He battled through a 1-0 eight-inning pitching victory over Sanderson in the playoff opener and took the win in Tuesday’s 5-3 third-round victory over top-seeded Southeast Guilford on Tuesday.
Papp, who also had a pair of hits, allowed five hits. Jakob Arnold snapped a 2-2 tie in the fifth with a suicide squeeze bunt that scored Dillon Cooper and Derrick Barnes added an RBI single.
Ryan Sande ripped a triple in the seventh and scored on Tommy Perrin’s single.