The story of the first six innings of South Johnston’s second round matchup against Pikeville’s C.B. Aycock in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A baseball playoffs was one of missed opportunities.
In the seventh and final inning, however, every single opportunity was cashed in as the Trojans (16-8) rallied with five runs in the top of the frame to come from behind for the 8-6 win over the Golden Falcons to advance to the third round.
Nash Johnson, Noah Bridges, Zachary Bridges and Grant Millay led off the seventh inning with four consecutive base hits as South Johnston cranked out seven hits in the pivotal frame as compared to just four over the course of the first six innings.
“Guys were putting their best at bats of the night right there in the seventh inning for us,” said South Johnston coach Aaron Parnell. “They put it together; they were focused on what they were trying to do. We can hit the ball out of the ball park but our thing is that five hits in a row is a lot more frustrating than one missed pitch and we hit it out.
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“They kept grinding and guy after guy, you start kind of believing it.”
Nash Johnson led off the inning with a double to left centerfield to get the ball rolling. Noah Bridges followed with an infield single, Zachary Bridges delivered with a RBI single to cut the lead to 6-4.
Noah Bridges then scored on a wild pitch and then Millay doubled in pinch runner Thomas Carpenter to tie the game.
Kevin Honeycutt came to the plate with two outs and Millay at third base when he gave the Trojans the lead with a RBI single to right.
“I just put it in play somewhere hoping it gets through and get the leading run in,” said Honeycutt. “And I hoped someone behind me could do the same thing.”
Joseph Johnson’s infield single then plated John Cuppett and finished off the damage and spotted Millay, who had come on in relief in the fourth inning, a two-run lead.
Millay issued a walk to the Falcons’ Bryce Anders and the potential game tying run came to the plate in the form of Chandler Gentry in the last of the seventh. Gentry hit a hard shot steps from the warning track in right field but Noah Bridges tracked it down and caught it, ending the improbable comeback.
Millay credited teammate Drew Moore’s inspirational speech in the dugout in the latter innings as helping the Trojans to turn things around.
“When I came in, I had to have trust in my defense and (when) things weren’t going our way, (Moore) picked everyone up and gave us a little talk, and ever since then, we all just were kind of locked in,” Millay said. “At the beginning, we just weren’t focused enough: it was like none of us were ready for the ball to get hit to us.
“Then, like I said, we had a talk and just locked into the game and we were waiting for the ball to get hit to us because we were all hungry for it.”
Those balls in the early innings were eating up the South Johnston fielders, however, as the Trojans committed five errors that led to four of Aycock’s runs.
Although South Johnston took the early 2-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a Millay RBI double and an unearned run, three errors in the bottom of the frame allowed C.B. Aycock (22-5) to take the 3-2 lead and build on it until the ill-fated seventh for the hosts.
The Trojans had chances to cut the lead more or even push back in front but base running errors, failed sacrifice bunts and not getting runs on the board after getting the first two batters on base in the fifth inning looked to all but doom the visitors’ chances.
Parnell pointed to senior Nash Johnson’s double to start the seventh as being the key to opening the big inning.
“You get to the last inning, the reality is you either get hits and score runs to win and keep playing or you’re done,” said Parnell. “Nash leading off with a double was big-time for a kid that that was his last high school baseball game at that point.
“He did that and kind of led the whole army going in that direction.”
Millay led the Trojans with a pair of doubles and a pair of RBIs. He also allowed just one earned run in four innings of relief work to pick up the win
Zachary Bridges, John Cuppett and Joseph Johnson all contributed two hits apiece for South Johnston.
For the Golden Falcons, Gentry was the most dangerous hitter driving in a pair of runs including a run-scoring double.