On the first day of April, two unofficial signs the “spring” high school baseball season has finally arrived were evident Tuesday night at Fuquay-Varina’s field for a non-conference game with Sanderson.
One was the sight of Fuquay’s coaches uncoiling the hoses to water down the mound and infield from a 79-degree sunbaked afternoon. Throughout March they’ve been forced to dry out rain-drenched fields that were close to freezing over.
The other sight was an old-time pitchers’ duel between two college-bound prospects – Sanderson’s Daniel Dulaney, who is committed to UNC-Greensboro, and Fuquay’s Brett Daniels, who is bound for North Carolina.
Both starters finally gave way to relievers as the game extended into extra innings before Sanderson scored two runs in the top of the ninth to pull out a 5-3 victory over the Bengals (6-5).
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With the win, Sanderson (6-5) managed a split after losing to Fuquay on Monday at home, 9-3. Sanderson coach Todd Laughlin and Fuquay-Varina coach Milton Senter experimented with a spring break home-and-home series rather than entering a spring break tournament.
“Two colleges have great pitching prospects coming in,” Loughlin said. “Coach Senter and I expected a pitchers’ duel and that’s what we got. We had a few bumps in Monday’s loss, but our guys showed good composure to come back and scrap for a win against a very good team. The series was a good idea.”
Dulaney, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, used a fastball, a curveball that kept hitting the outside of the plate for called strikes and a changeup. He struck out 11 in 6 2/3 innings before giving way to Vance Lassiter, who picked up the win in 2 1/3 innings of relief.
Daniels, a 6-0, 185-pounder, worked 6 1/3 innings and struck out six before he was relieved after he gave a single to Corey Wood to score Johann Espoejo, who had doubled, for a brief 3-2 lead.
But Daniels kept Fuquay in the game when it looked like Dulaney was on his way to a 2-0 shutout victory by stroking a two-RBI double to right-center in the sixth.
“Dulaney has always been good,” Daniels said. “He was hitting his spots and that’s tough to hit. When you give up a couple of runs, you can’t let it affect you.”
Dulaney started the seventh and recorded two quick outs. But then he walked two batters and a wild pitch followed by a throwing error on a ground ball allowed D.J. Burt to score the tying run and force extra innings.
In the ninth, Fuquay reliever Kevin Cutler got the leadoff batter before an error, a single by Connor Baldy to score one run and another throwing error to send home Baldy provided a two-run margin.
But Baldy’s biggest play was to come as a right fielder. Fuquay loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with three singles when Nick Yarbrough hit a fly ball down the right field line. Baldy made the catch and threw out the Fuquay Ryan Rizk as he tried to tag up. Catcher Ryan Jeffers fielded the one-hop throw and had the plate blocked like a fireplug that stopped Rizk with a thud without touching the plate.
“I haven’t seen pitching like that where a guy (Dulaney) commanded all three pitches so well,” Senter said. “The bottom line is they made some plays. The right fielder and the catcher made a play at the end. That was an outstanding short-hop stop by the catcher. We have a young team and hopefully we’ll learn from facing a pitcher like that.”