A struggling Southwest Wake Athletic Conference baseball team once again showed why there are no days off in the deep and talented SWAC.
Apex, searching for its first conference victory, surprised Panther Creek, ranked No. 8 among area schools, with an 8-4 victory Thursday at the Cougars’ park.
Apex junior center fielder Esteban Valencia stroked a two-run, 360-foot home run to left-center field for a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. In all, he was 2 of 4 with an RBI double in the sixth to finish with three RBIs and two runs scored.
“We know we’ve been off to a slow start this year,” Valencia said. “We don’t have as much talent as last year, but we’ve been working hard and staying loose. We had a T-ball scrimmage (yesterday) just to keep things upbeat. Hitting is contagious.”
Putting up numbers: Apex (3-5, 1-3) banged out six extra-base hits with four doubles and two homers among 11 hits overall.
In addition to Valenica, catcher Lane Olive hit a two-run homer for two RBIs and a one run scored, shortstop Ben Highfill doubled twice with one run scored and one RBI, first baseman James Hooks doubled with a run scored and Jordan Mann doubled with a run scored.
“We’re a young team that has had to learn how to finish games,” Apex coach Mike Valder said. “Our top four guys really came through with quality at-bats, and we put some pressure on them. Hartwell Perkinson had a nice sacrifice bunt and we put that squeeze play.”
Panther Creek (7-3, 2-2) battled back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 4-2 lead in the top of the fourth when second baseman Wilson Jolly led off with a double. He was followed by walks to Corey Hall and Matthew Mitchum and a three-run double from right-fielder Nathan Lee. He scored on catcher Andrew Zuber’s single.
What worked: Apex didn’t give in to the Panther Creek comeback as the Cougars scored in the fifth with the help of an error and added three insurance runs in the sixth with two walks and two timely hits.
Perkinson and C.J. Conrad were on second and first after a walk and a single when Valencia doubled just inside first base down the right-field line to score Perkinson. With Conrad on third base and Valencia second, Highfill squeeze bunted. The moving runners created indecision as Conrad scored, Highfill beat the throw to first and Valencia came home on the throw to first.
“They hit the ball well and put some pressure on us,” Panther Creek coach Dan Hall said. “They hit some good pitches and we some pitches we missed. Our guys were throwing good stuff, but they hit the ball well. We left too many runners on base, and that’s something we weren’t having a problem with earlier in the year.”