After beating Leesville Road in the opening round of the NCHSAA 4A baseball playoffs, Fuquay-Varina’s players broke their team huddle, collected their gear and quietly made their way to their bus.
The No. 22 Bengals were focused on a trip to Wilmington, where they will face No. 6 Laney on Friday.
But Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Pride didn’t come easy for Fuquay-Varina. The Bengals, up 2-0 in the sixth, saw that lead evaporate as the Pride came back to tie the game.
But thanks to strong pitching from senior Joe Arnett and clutch hitting in the top of the 9th, Fuquay (11-10) will continue to defend its title.
Last season, Fuquay topped Ardrey Kell 2-1 in the championship series to win the state title. This season, the Bengals finished 5-7 in the South Wake Athletic Conference, ending the regular season in fifth place. In the seven-team league, six teams made the postseason, prompting Boraski to call the SWAC one of the hardest, if not the hardest, conference in North Carolina. His experienced team is used to grinding it out, so they were right at home when Leesville came back to tie the game in the bottom of the 8th.
“We have an old team,” Bengals’ coach Zachary Boraski said. “We have 24 juniors and seniors, we’re old. They are used to this. A lot of us went on the run last year together so they are used to doing what they are supposed to do.”
Four league games were decided by two runs or less this season. With the exception of two blowout loses to league-leader Holly Springs and two lopsided wins over South Garner, which finished last, the Bengals were battling in each game. So when the Pride got a little momentum going at home, Boraski never expected his players to get rattled.
“Some of them did get rattled, but they were able to lock back in and they were able to relax,” Boraski said of his players. “If you can lock back in after you get rattled you have a chance to compete and that’s what happened. We got the next guy out and we competed and had a chance all the way through.”
In the bottom of the 8th with the game tied at 2, Leesville Road loaded the bases, but Fuquay-Varina kept calm and got off the field, thanks to a nice play by infielder Cameron Johnson. The Bengals got themselves out of a similar jam in the bottom of the third, once again leaving three runners stranded.
“That just brought us some energy,” senior outfielder TJ Hardy said.
Hardy was responsible for one of those plays, robbing Leesville of a potential triple earlier in the game with a diving catch in left field.
“TJ with the diving catch, if he misses that it’s a triple, but he sold out and he got it,” Boraski said. “That’s just a great play.”
Arnett, another senior, was pitching the second time the Pride loaded up, but there was more pressure this time around - it was the bottom of the 8th and the game was tied at 2. But Arnett never let the moment get to him. The perks of being on the state championship stage a year ago.
“Our pitchers, we’ve been in intense games before, so for us this is easy,” Arnett said. “We just stay up there and do what we’ve been taught to do. Throw strikes and keep us in the game and hope we get some hits.”
Fuquay-Varina will have to once again have a chance to defend its title on the road. Knocking off the state champs is always a big deal, but the Bengals don’t rest on what they did last year, Arnett, a Wake Tech commit, said.
The goal is to win the game that’s in front of them, have a chance to practice the next day and get back to the title. Boraski isn’t worried that that means another game on the road.
“I’ll put our team up against anybody, I don’t care what our record is,” Boraski said. “I think we have enough talent to play with anybody, we have enough arms to play with anybody. I don’t care where we play, who we play. That’s the benefit of us. We’ll go play anywhere.”