Jake Strickland was able to make one of those mad dashes most baserunners only dream about Tuesday night.
Strickland came on as a pinch runner with the score tied and two out in the bottom of the seventh, advancing on a passed ball and then sprinting home from second on Cameron Meyers’ infield hit to first to give West Johnston a 4-3 win over archrival Clayton.
The win on Senior Night improved West to 15-4, 11-1 in Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play and gave the Wildcats a clear inside track to win the conference title.
Clayton (12-7, 8-5) is in third place and still had some work to do to clinch a spot in the state playoffs.
West had won the teams’ first meeting 9-6 on April 14 in Clayton.
“It was an exciting game, but it wasn’t a well-played game,” Clayton coach Stacey Houser said of the nail-biter. “We bunted into double plays twice and walked four in a row once. And we kicked the ball around in the first inning.
“We didn’t play well enough to win but we played hard enough to win. The mistakes we made hurt us. But we’ll be OK.”
Senior Thomas Coggburn (6-0) had his third complete game of the season, allowing the three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts against three walks.
“I was pitching to contact and getting a lot of fly balls, with some strikeouts here and there,” Coggburn said. “And we got good defense. This feels great, especially against a team as good as Clayton.”
West finished with just six hits on the night as Meyers went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI and Tony Mack also went 2-for-3.
“I was just trying to get a pitch I could hit,” Meyers said of the final at-bat. “I saw (first baseman Brooks Verona) lay out and I just busted my tail to get to first base before he did, and he stepped on my shoe.”
Strickland said he wasn’t going to pull up at third on the last play unless Worley put on a hard stop.
“I knew it was two outs, so with bat contact I was going to be running,” Strickland said. “I got myself a two-out lead, and saw the ball come off the bat. Coach kept pulling me on and I kept running, and fortunately Cameron beat it out.”
Brendan Alexyon led Clayton at the plate with a pair of hits including a two-run homer.
West scored twice in the first. Noah Liles drew a one-out walk, advanced on Michael Blevins’ two-out infield hit and then scored when Sterling Atkinson reached on an error. Meyers then hit an RBI single to right.
But the Comets rallied for three in the second. Verona led off with a double to right and scored on a two-out passed ball. After Mason Medlin walked, Alexyon launched a 1-2 pitch over the fence in right center.
“I was looking dead-red fastball, timed it right and hit a shot,” Alexyon said. “It’s always a good game and good competition when we play West, and we ll know each other very well. The better team just won the game tonight. We didn’t execute when we needed to and it cost us.”
West tied it in the third. Tyler Tilson led off with a walk, the first of three straight to start the inning before Chris Chavez relieved starter Sulley Keele. Tilson then scored on a passed ball.
And the score stayed right there until the Wildcats’ winning rally.