Fourteen innings, a combined two runs and one wild finish — that was the story of this week’s Greater Neuse River Conference baseball series between West Johnston and East Wake.
After dropping the series opener at West Johnston on Tuesday, host East Wake rebounded with a 1-0 decision over the Wildcats in Thursday’s rematch. That was the same score the Warriors had fallen by two days earlier as part of a series that featured plenty of high-level pitching and defense.
“These are probably two of the best-played games you are going to see,” said East Wake coach Tony Piercy.
Piercy’s club picked up only four hits Thursday, but two of them came in the decisive bottom of the seventh inning, including a pinch-hit, two-out single from Alex Hocutt that brought home the game-winner — and sparked an emotional celebration from the Warriors (5-10 overall, 3-3 GNRC).
“Both teams pitched great and fielded the ball well the last two games,’’ said West Johnston coach Joey Worley, whose club is tied atop the league at 5-1 to go with a 7-9 overall mark. “(East Wake) just got the big hits (Thursday), and we didn’t.’’
Neither club had been able to dent the scoreboard heading into the bottom of the seventh, and East Wake appeared on its way to another scratch following a pair of routine outs.
But Warriors’ catcher Chase Brantley took a two-strike offering down the left-field line for a double. Piercy then called on Hocutt to pinch hit, and he flared a 2-0 pitch to right field to plate the winning run.
“Chase did a good job of battling with two strikes,’’ Piercy said. “We always talk about being ready to play when you are called on, and Alex came in, had one at-bat and he is the hero.’’
Three to know
Will Davis, East Wake: Davis went the distance for the Warriors on the mound, allowing just two hits to go with eight strikeouts. He didn’t allow a baserunner over the final three innings.
After a 40-minute lightning delay going into the bottom of the sixth, Piercy wasn’t sure if he allow Davis to remain in the game. That decision was made during a brief conversation Piercy had with his ace during the break.
“Will has been our horse in the conference,’’ Piercy said. “When a player comes up to you and tells you he has it the rest of the way, sometimes you have to trust him.”
Said Davis: “I told coach that I wanted this more than anything. To be able to beat the first-place team in our conference was pretty sweet. Our guys made some great plays behind me.”
Cameron Meyers, West Johnston: The Wildcats’ senior was sharp for five innings and limited East Wake to one hit while striking out five. Meyers walked two batters apiece in the fourth and fifth, but was able to work his way out of a jam on each occasion.
Worley opted to replace Meyers when play resumed in the bottom of the sixth.
“I didn’t want to try to get (Meyers) hurt,’’ Worley said. “He had gotten up to 75 pitches, so I thought it was in our best interest to get Trevor (Wilson) and Wade (Eatmon) up and ready. Cam pitched very well for us and we will need him in the stretch run (of the GNRC schedule).’’
Wilson eventually entered the game and was one pitch away from forcing extra innings before East Wake erupted.
Alex Hocutt, East Wake: Hocutt made the most of his lone at-bat as he flared his single to right to help the Warriors claim the series split.
“I had a 2-0 count, so I was thinking that the next pitch was going to come down the middle,” Hocutt said. “I was looking to take a swing there. I was either going to hit it big or miss it big.
“I always try to stay focused on the game. Everybody on our roster has a role. I knew I could do the job. It was a great relief.”
In the new GNRC format, teams play two-game series against each other in the same week, weather permitting. In each of its three series to date, the Warriors have dropped the opener, only to rally back in the finale to gain a split.
It’s no coincidence that Davis has been on the mound for each of East Wake’s conference victories.
“I really don’t feel a lot of pressure in those situations,’’ Davis said. “I knew this was a game we had to win if we want to make a run at the playoffs.”
Out of bounds
West Johnston has won three league championships during its 12-year existence — and Worley would love to add another piece of hardware to the school’s trophy case the spring.
GNRC opponents have found out quickly that the Wildcats’ sub-.500 record is a bit deceiving.
“We have had a brutal non-conference schedule,’’ Worley said. “We did that to be prepared for the conference, to be honest.’’
Worley has been one of the biggest advocates of the new league series format.
“I really like it,’’ Worley said. “You can’t just match up No. 1 vs. No. 1 pitcher anymore, and you can’t just throw one pitcher out there for every big game. I think this will give us a true conference champion.”
West Johnston shared the league title last year with Garner. Those clubs will meet April 26 and 29.