It was the ultimate definition of scrappy baseball – and a winning formula as well for Fuquay-Varina.
The Bengals held off Millbrook 6-5 Wednesday night to take the opening game of the NCHSAA 4A eastern regional baseball championship series, escaping a bases loaded one-out jam in the Wildcats’ final at bat to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
“It’s all about survive and advance, and that’s the definition of what we did tonight,” said Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter. “We’ve just got to keep that going.”
Game 2 of the series is Thursday night at Millbrook.
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Millbrook starter Reid Herring struck out 11 and had the Bengals (23-6) guessing at the plate for almost the entire night. The junior right-hander dotted his curveball and change up all over the strike zone.
“He had all three pitches going and had us guessing a little bit,” Senter said. “Kudos to him. And I thought we were a little tight at the plate for the first time since this (the playoffs) started.”
But Fuquay-Varina had just enough big hits (four of them in total on the night) – and clutch pitching at the end – to get the win.
Millbrook went ahead 4-3 in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Herring which scored Scott McKeon. But the Bengals – just as they did the first time the Wildcats scored – answered in the bottom half of the inning.
A walk and an infield error put runners on second and third for Fuquay-Varina junior third baseman Aaron Ruble who pulled a hard liner just inside of the third base bag to score Austin Harris and Ryan Rizk for a 5-4 lead.
“It felt like we were trying to figure him out the whole game,” Ruble said of Herring. “We just couldn’t figure out his off-speed stuff. But we started to get deeper into some counts as the game went along.
“I just wanted to hit the first fastball I got and I was able to make good contact. Andrew Smith had a really big hit too.”
Smith’s big hit came right after Ruble’s, scoring Kyle Jackson and pushing the lead to 6-4.
The Wildcats weren’t done, however.
A hit batsman, a walk and a single by Spencer Williams loaded the bases with nobody out. After Senter relieved starter Caleb Bissette (6 IP, 5 R, 3 ER, 8 H, 5 K, 3 BB) with Austin Harris, Alex Royalty lifted a sacrifice fly into right field, scoring Bryce Carnevale to get within 6-5.
Another walk reloaded the bases before the Bengals called on right-hander Brycen Braswell to get out of the jam. He did just that, getting a ground ball to force a runner out at the plate, then striking the final batter out to put the Bengals a game away from the state championship series.
Williams and Herring had two hits each for Millbrook. Braswell hit a three-run home run in the third for the Bengals.