South Granville will play Randleman for the state 2A baseball championship next weekend after taking the Eastern Regional title with a 9-8, 14-inning win over defending state champion Midway Friday night in a four hours and 22 minutes game that could well be one of the wildest playoff games in NCHSAA history.
In the best of three series, Midway won the first game 6-5 and the Vikings took game two, 3-1.
But game three was something else, with both teams seeing chances to win slide away more than once.
After the two teams battled to a 6-6 stalemate after seven innings, South Granville (23-3) took the lead in the 11th and 13th innings only to have Midway rally to tie the score each time.
But in the 14th inning, number nine hitter, sophomore Clay Walters, a left-handed batter, sliced a fly ball down the the leftfield line. Raiders leftfielder Trey Wood dove for the ball near the foul line, but just missed and Walters was able to score on an inside-the-park homer for the 9-8 lead.
“I knew the count was 1-2 and I just had to get on base some way,” Walters said. “I got a fastball outside and went with it. I thought it was going to be foul and saw him dive for the ball. Coach just waved me on, never held me up.”
In the bottom of the inning, junior Justin Brown then retired the Midway batters in order to end the game. Brown had the rare distinction of being the starting pitcher and getting a save in the same game. He pitched the first four innings for the Vikings.
“(Coach Curt Watkins) asked how I felt and actually if felt like I had more energy going out there in the 14th than I had in the first inning,” Brown said. “This whole game, though, we had to fight for everything and keep coming back. I’ve never been in a game like this.”
The winning pitcher was lefty freshman Hayden Laws, who also drove in the Vikings’ run in the 13th with a bunt. Laws’ twin brother Holden also pitched 1 2/3 innings late in the game.
“We do not quit,” coach Watkins said of his team. “It took everything we had. Two 14-year-old twins off the jayvee team came in and made big plays. Our guys never thought we were out of it.”
Midway (23-4) started senior Matthew Barefoot, the MVP in the state 2A finals last year, on the mound and he gave up a 2-run homer to South Granville sophomore Justin Bullock in the first inning. But Midway rallied to tie the score at 3-3 on third baseman Tyler Pope’s 3-run homer. South came back to take a 6-4 lead, but the Raiders socred two off Bullock, the Vikings’ ace, in the sixth to tie the score again.
Midway hurt itself when it had potential winning runs picked off second base in the ninth and tenth innings. Then in the 11th, after tying the score at 7-7, the Raiders had the bases loaded and one out. Wesley Johnson hit a flyball that could have driven in the winning run. South’s leftfielder Cameron Willis made a diving catch and was able to double off the runner who was on third and had run home thinking the ball was going to fall for a hit.
Now the Vikings can turn their attention toward the state finals and try to win the program’s first state title.
“These guys have really been something, having the best season in the school’s history,” coach Watkins said. “I know in 1982 South Granville lost in the state finals, so we’ve still got a lot to play for.”