At first, Jimmy Boyd was just happy to reach third base. Boyd, the designated hitter for Middle Creek, slowed his running speed down as he came closer to coach Jeremy Thompson.
Then, all of a sudden, Thompson told Boyd to sprint to home.
When Boyd turned the corner, he didn’t see Millbrook’s catcher near the plate. A routine seventh-inning base hit by center fielder Keenan Herring gave Boyd the winning run in Middle Creek’s 4-3 victory in the quarterfinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A baseball playoffs.
“I started slowing down, and then I just saw coach keep fanning me in,” Boyd said. “My eyes got really big, and I wanted to throw my helmet right there as I was touching the plate.”
Herring’s single went to right field, and Millbrook’s fielder made an attempt to throw Boyd out at third. But the throw sailed over everyone and landed deep in foul territory, which allowed Boyd to score the winning run.
“Keenan sent the ball the other way to where we had to make a routine play and we didn’t,” Millbrook coach Josh Pardue said. “We had our shot to win, but they are the ones who made the fewest mistakes.”
Boyd celebrated by running with his arms in the air. His teammates chased after him. Thompson also ran after Boyd to give him a hug.
“I think that was the fastest I’ve ran in 10 years when Jimmy scored,” Thompson said. “Whenever you get a win like that, it’s extremely exciting.”
The Mustangs (22-6) will play Richmond County (25-5) on Thursday in Game 1 of a best-of-three series to reach the championship series.
Middle Creek led Millbrook for much of the game.
The Wildcats (17-7) tied the score in the sixth inning when Brandyn Johnson scored on an error.
At that point, Millbrook had all the momentum. The Wildcats started the seventh inning with runners at first and third base with one out.
Thompson turned to reliever Sal Savarese to get the Mustangs out of the inning.
Savarese induced the next two Wildcats into pop-ups to give the Mustangs a chance.
“We’ve been telling him all year that we were going to need him,” Thompson said of Savarese. “I was just so happy that tonight was his time to shine.”
To win, the Mustangs had to get past Patrick LaGanke, Millbrook’s top reliever. LaGanke had struck out five Mustangs when Boyd came to the batter’s box with two outs in the seventh inning.
“I was trying to do way too much earlier in the game,” Boyd said. “This time I wanted to stay within myself. I had a simple approach at the plate.”
Boyd’s single bounced over Millbrook’s third baseman. Herring came to the plate next. Thompson, knowing Herring hadn’t reached first base during the game, gave his player a message.
“I told him to hit a fastball,” Thompson said. “It’s easy for me to say that, but for him to execute was excellent. I’m really proud the boys were able to get it done.”
Boyd stole second base before Herring did get a fastball from LaGanke.
“I was looking for anything I could drive,” Herring said. “I wanted anything but the curveball.”