Apex pulled off their second upset in a row on Tuesday night, holding off a late rally to beat Leesville Road 3-1 and advance to the third round of the 4A baseball playoffs.
The Cougars (14-10), seeded fourth out of the Tri-Nine Conference, were cruising until the final inning, when the Pride (17-6), seeded second out of the Cap-8 Conference, scored their only run and had the game-winning run at the plate.
Apex senior Matt Tenuta hit the Pride’s first batter of the inning before giving up consecutive singles to close the deficit to 3-1, but struck out the final three batters to earn the save and close it out for the Cougars.
“In the seventh inning it was getting pretty hairy, obviously,” said Apex coach Mike Valder. “But (Tenuta) gave us some big pitches and big outs that got us home.”
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Senior Keaton Oaks pitched five dominant innings for the Cougars, not allowing a runner past second base while giving up two hits and one walk and striking out two batters.
“The offensive struggles for us early on had a lot to do with their ability to throw the ball,” said Leesville coach Chad Smothers. “Their pitchers really kept us off-balance.”
“I went out on the mound with a different mindset tonight,” Oaks said. “It could’ve been my last game, so I gave all I had.”
The Cougars jumped on Leesville starter Sean Ross early when senior shortstop Alann Kragnes led off the game with a double.
Two batters later, senior catcher Kyle May plated Kragnes with a single to give Apex an early 1-0 lead.
“That’s what Coach Valder always says, to try and set the tone early,” Oaks said. “We definitely wanted to come out of the gate and show them what we’ve got.”
Kragnes extended the lead in the sixth with a 2-run double that the Cougars ended up sorely needing.
“(Kragnes) had several great at-bats tonight, and made a couple great defensive plays,” Valder said. “He got the biggest hit right when we really needed it.”
Apex will look to continue their playoff run on Friday on the road against Millbrook (16-7), whom the Cougars lost to 8-1 earlier this season.
“We didn’t play our best against (Millbrook),” Oaks said. “We have a chance against them, and I think we can definitely beat them.”
Millbrook 1-hits Green Hope: Coach Mike Miragliuolo has led Green Hope to five conference titles, but Tuesday was the latest in short postseason stays. The 4-0 home loss to Millbrook (16-7) in the second round was equal parts puzzling and frustrating.
Despite its sixth season with 17 or more wins, Green Hope has yet to make the third round.
“We have high expectations and we haven’t made a long playoff run. That’s what’s frustrating to everybody is – why aren’t we doing it in the playoffs? Every time it seems that the situation is on the line over the years in the regular season, we do things – we play well,” Miragliuolo said.
“Five conference titles in 11 years, we send players to college – we’ve done a lot that we’re awful proud of. But we see the success of other teams in our school and we want to follow suit.”
The Falcons got just one hit off Wildcats pitcher Patrick LaGanke, and no Green Hope player advanced past first base.
“I never would’ve thought we would’ve came out and swung the bats as little as we did like that,” Miragliuolo said. “Not that we’ve been hitting the ball all over all year but I just would’ve thought we’d fight better than that.”
The Falcons (19-6) are losing five seniors including four starters from this year’s team.
Staff Writer J. Mike Blake contributed to this report.