After graduating a senior class that had been a part of four consecutive 20-plus win seasons, Green Hope baseball coach Mike Miragliuolo wasn’t sure what to expect out of a young squad featuring eight underclassmen and only five seniors in 2016.
As a matter of fact, he admitted to his team in the preseason that he wasn’t sure what the spring season would hold.
“I told them I didn’t know if we’d win four or if we’d win 20, and I really had no idea,” Miragliuolo said.
After downing Fayetteville’s Pine Forest, the 12-seed, 2-1 to secure a trip to the final eight in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs, his team picked up its 22nd victory, and his players made sure he knew that.
“They reminded me (of what I said) after winning conference and then again tonight,” Miragliuolo said.
It was the 11th time this year the Falcons have held the opposition to one run or less and the third time in the postseason after an 8-1 win against Garner and 1-0 victory against East Wake.
Senior pitcher Mitch Spence pitched a complete seven innings in the win, coming in clutch when it mattered most.
After giving up two consecutive hits to open the fifth inning – one of which turned into a run for Pine Forest’s Jacob Austin following a wild throw to second – Spence struck out three in a row to hold onto the lead that Green Hope had earned just a half-inning earlier off an RBI single from Sean McQuilan and sacrifice fly by Jordan Montgomery.
When Chris Joyner was warming up in the bullpen, Spence made it clear he had no intention of making an early exit.
Spence said, “I want to finish my own games. I start it, I want to finish it.”
“I wanted to leave it in his hands. He really, really wanted it,” Miragliuolo said.
Spence struck out two of the Trojans’ final three batters to extend his high school career at least another game.
“I just had to get them out, all I had to do. I wanted to win. I want to go as far as we can, and I knew if it was on my back, I could keep playing for these guys and go as far as I can,” Spence said.
Green Hope will face the winner of Greenville’s J.H. Rose and Southwest Wake rival Fuquay-Varina in the next round, a chance to go farther than any Falcon team of the past.
“That was a big win for us. Every time you win a playoff game, it’s big. I think it’s the fourth time we’ve been to the final eight in the state, and it’s been a couple years. We’ve never been to a(n East final) series, and it’d be nice to win one more and see what that’s like,” Miragliuolo said.
A clutch defensive play in the second inning kept Pine Forest from taking an early lead as Jamaiz Hunt’s ball into right field seemed destined to be an RBI before Connor Knapp zipped a ball home to catcher Drew Hegeman, who met Austin at home for a crucial out.
“I had to trust my defense and all the players behind me,” Spence said.
Knapp (two), McQuilan, Hegeman and Austen Jones (two) all had hits for the Falcons.