Garner Cleveland: Sports

Garner routs Knightdale, takes No. 1 playoff seeding

Garner accomplished the inevitable on the baseball diamond Wednesday night, and the Trojans were able to do it with plenty of flair.

Junior southpaw Brighton Hudson was brilliant in picking up his seventh victory of the season while Skylar Strickland hit a long home run and finished with five RBIs, leading the Trojans to a 12-0 romp in six innings to spoil Knightdale’s Senior Night.

Garner improved to 19-2, 12-0 with its 17th straight victory, the streak including an 8-7, 10-inning squeaker over Knightdale on the Trojans’ field on March 28, and clinched no worse than a share of the regular-season championship in the Greater Neuse River 4A.

Knightdale, which is in fifth place, fell to 8-10 and 6-6.

“We knew we had some talent, but we didn’t think we’d be 19-2,” Garner coach Derik Goffena said. “We play in a tough conference with a lot of good teams. I thought we’d be competitive, but we’ve played better than I anticipated.

“Our pitching has been really, really good this year. With Carrington (Austin) behind the plate and Taylor (Stephens) and Trevor (Lee) up the middle, we knew we’d be pretty strong. But our infield is playing as well as I’ve seen in a while, and we have good speed in the outfield.”

Knightdale finished with two hits in the shutout, which came on a bittersweet night for the team.

The team’s six seniors had their numbers painted down the first-base line, and wore pink undershirts as a salute to breast cancer survivor Denise Hellriegel – mother of senior first baseman Chris Hellriegel – who tossed the ceremonial first pitch.

Putting Up Numbers: Hudson (7-0) went five innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight against one walk while his teammates played flawless defense.

“This season has been a dream,” Hudson said. “Tonight my curve was working well. I’ve been hitting spots with my fastball all season.

“We’ve scored pretty early in most games, so I’m able to be pretty calm. I just encourage my teammates to go out and get runs on the board.”

What Worked: Strickland’s bat.

He went 2-for-4 with a two-run single and a three-run homer that was his second clout of the season, also hitting a monster blast in the second inning that was just outside the left-field foul pole.

“I thought that first one was fair,” Strickland said. “But later I got on a high fastball pretty good.

“We beat a good team tonight. We knew we had had a close game with them last time so we wanted to get on them early.”

What Didn’t Work: Knightdale in the field.

The Knights committed one infield and one outfield error, hit three batters and made a wild pitch.

“When we played them at Garner, we scored four runs in the first inning,” Knightdale coach Andy Vaglio said. “Hudson threw the ball well for them tonight. Our starter Dylon (Alexander) had a good start and then started having with some walks.

“We kicked the ball around in the fifth inning and hit three batters and that’s not a story for success.”

Feeling the Impact: The win gave Garner a two-game lead over second-place Clayton with two games left in the season, clinching the title since the Trojans swept the season series with the Comets.

That means Garner has the league’s No. 1 state playoff seeding. The Trojans will take the title outright with a win in either of their final two regular-season games or a Clayton loss in one of its last two games. Either way, the Trojans host a first round state playoff game on May 10.

Knightdale is locked into the state playoffs since it held a four-game lead over sixth-place East Wake and Smithfield-Selma going into the night.