There are two sides of the story for West Johnston baseball’s regular season. The side that won just two out of 10 non-conference games and the side that won 12 of their 14 conference games.
It’s the latter that’s more important this time of the year.
The Wildcats wrapped up a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference championship season with a 10-4 victory over Knightdale on Saturday afternoon.
West Johnston enters the playoffs with a 14-10 record, but as one of the No. seeds in the field, meaning they’ll get at least one and probably two home games.
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“We kept working on our approach,” said West Johnston coach Joey Worley. “Once the guys started to buy into what we wanted to do, things turned around for us. We know who we are. We’re capable of playing great defense and our pitching is solid.
“We’re not going to knock the ball out of the park but we can put up some doubles and be aggressive on the bases, stealing bases.”
The Wildcats have only allowed more than three runs once in a conference game since March 28 and finished the conference season with wins in seven of their last eight Greater Neuse battles.
All nine starters in the Wildcat batting order reached base on Saturday, with leadoff man Tony Mack delivering every time when he came to the plate with runners on base. Mack was 3-for-4 with four RBI. The first two of those RBIs started a four-run West rally in the second inning that helped shoot the Wildcats ahead 7-1 after three innings.
Worley said Mack has posted a near-.400 batting average in conference play and has 17 RBIs in conference play.
“We’re not your typical RBI team,” Worley said. “You look at what we’ve done of late and it’s the seven, eight, nine guys in the order getting on and Tony knocking them in. And our No. 7 batter, Garrett (Giddens) is our RBI leader. He’s thrived when the three, four and five guys in the order have been on base.”
Mack, No. 8 batter Trevor Wilson and No. 9 batter Peyton Richards drove in runs for West in the third inning.
After Knightdale cut the lead to 7-4 in the fourth, West pushed the lead back to six runs in the top of the fifth with an RBI single from Mack and a two-run double from Jack Strickland.
Knightdale, hoping to play the spoiler on its Senior Day, stranded seven baserunners in the first four innings of play, including leaving the bases loaded in the first.
The Knights put the lead off batter on base in each of the first five innings.
“Our pitching was just O.K. today,” Worley said. “We kept getting behind in counts, giving up walks and hitting guys. We just weren’t as sharp as we have been of late, but we got it done.”
West used five pitchers on the afternoon with winning pitcher Cameron Meyers going three frames and four relievers taking a frame each. So the Wildcats will open the state playoffs with its pitching staff well-rested and ready.
“We’re just going to keep doing the things we’ve been doing,” Worley said of his team’s playoff approach. “Ideally, you need to step up your pitching in the playoffs because you’re going to see everybody’s best. And I feel like our pitching can do the job if we get ahead in counts and don’t walk guys.
“Defensively, we’ve been very solid and that’s something we hope we can rely on in the playoffs.”
Clayton and East Wake finished in a tie for second place in the conference at 10-4. Clayton beat Southeast Raleigh 7-1 on Saturday, while East Wake turned back Harnett Central, 9-3.
East Wake gets the No. 2 seed since it beat West Johnston and Clayton did not.
Garner finished in fourth place in the league after drilling Rolesville 14-4 on Saturday afternoon. The Trojans were 12-12 during the regular season.
Note: Garner took the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference's top playoff seed after its last of four attempts to play Rolesville on Saturday was cancelled. West Johnston is the No. 2 playoff seed.