Deep playoff runs and Voyager Academy baseball seem to go hand in hand.
The Vikings advanced to another N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A fourth round after overpowering Gates County 11-0 Friday evening at Duke’s Combs Field.
The matchup had been postponed three times due to weather. Because of the delay, Voyager has little time to celebrate as it travels to powerhouse Whiteville Sunday. The two teams last met in the 2014 playoffs, with Whiteville winning in a 5-0 shutout.
“We’ve been waiting for Whiteville since we lost to them two years ago,” senior pitcher Caleb Trueheart said. “They’re the best and you have to go through the best.”
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Trueheart went the shortened five-inning distance, allowing four hits and striking out two.
Voyager (17-4) clicked on all cylinders, bombarding the Red Barons (14-11) with hitting, speed and defense.
“Tonight was one of our better games all season,” coach Pete Shankle said. “ (On offense) they hit, bunt and used their speed. On defense, they made the every day play, and they made the great plays.”
But it was Gates County that came out swinging in the first inning. The Red Barons rocked Trueheart with a double and a single on their first two at-bats.
With runners at first and third, Gage Riddick struck out just as teammate Jordan Brinkley attempted to steal second. Voyager catcher Ethan Blevins’ wild throw sailed over the second baseman’s head and allowed Gates’ D.J. Smith to score. But Riddick was called for interference and Smith was called out. Trueheart struck out the next batter to end the inning.
“I was fired up after that – getting out of that inning with no runs,” Trueheart said.
Voyager’s Michael Jones and Chase Sykes hit back-to-back singles to get the rally started in the bottom of the inning. After two straight putouts by Red Barons starter Parker Cline, Bryson Willis smacked a single up the middle to knock in Jones and give the Vikings the only run they’d need.
Voyager added three more runs in the second, led by first baseman Aaron Beasley’s two-RBI triple. The game was over by virtue of the 10-run rule after Gates County batted in the fifth.
Shankle said their tough nonconference schedule is paying off.
“We intentionally schedule the toughest teams in each of their conferences to get to this moment. This is what we’ve been playing for,” he said.