One set of visiting Wildcats looked very familiar to Heritage, the other not so much.
But the Huskies’ baseball and softball teams had similar challenges in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association state 4A playoffs on Friday night.
Win, and match the school’s deepest playoff advancement in any sport by advancing to the third round.
Both responded with identical bottom lines: Heritage defeated East Chapel Hill softball and Millbrook baseball by matching 6-1 scores.
In baseball, junior Trent Harris started and pitched six shutout innings in a team offensive effort to oust Cap-8 Conference rival Millbrook in the rubber match of their three meetings this season.
No. 10 seed Heritage (20-5) advanced to the next round of baseball next week against the winner of Saturday’s second-round contest between top-seeded J.H. Rose and No. 14 Scotland. Millbrook, which had been seeded 25th, finished 15-10.
Heritage outhit the visitors 8-2 in the baseball game, taking advantage of four double plays in the first five innings to get help Harris improve to 4-0 on the season. Harris and Max Ruskie each had two singles with an RBI for the Huskies, while Drake Thomas added an RBI double and Christian Staresina a double.
Millbrook leads the all-time baseball series with Heritage 9-6.
Thomas Ferrara was an assistant with the Huskies for four seasons until taking the top job this season, and his team has responded with a solid campaign.
“This is the most talented group we’ve had in a long time,” said Ferrara, whose school will leave the Cap-8 for the new Northern Athletic 4A in the fall. “Defensively, offensively, pitching – it’s exciting that it’s all coming together at the right time. This is about where I hoped we’d be. Tonight we had timely hitting and were able to score early and get the (Millbrook) crowd out of the game.”
Junior Trent Harris said he didn’t have his entire repertoire working, but was able to get the outs he needed.
“I could spot up my fastball pretty well, but I couldn’t spot up my curve and my change,” said Harris, who has given up one total run in his last four starts. “My defense made some key double plays. They’ve been pretty solid behind me all season and gotten me out of trouble. Reaching the third round is big, a huge accomplishment for the school.”
Senior second baseman Max Ruskie is scheduled to play at Wake Tech next season.
“We all came out, played hard and stuck together,” Ruskie said. “Trent was great, and we got momentum by stringing together hits early in the game. My personal goal was 20 wins, and we’ve got that now.”
Austin James’ club has dealt with plenty of adversity this season between injuries and players simply deciding to leave the program.
But the Wildcats fought through it for another winning campaign.
“It’s always tough to win in the playoffs, and Trent (Harris) pitched a great game for them,” James said. “We just didn’t have our best tonight. But I’m really proud of our season. We’ve been through a lot of adversity, but the seniors always picked us up when things got difficult. I’m really proud of them.”
Senior catcher Dennis Delgado is bound for Belmont Abbey in the fall.
“It’s been great to be with this pitching staff,” said Delgado, who was starting catcher for two seasons. “I’ve been more in tune with them than any staff I’ve ever caught. I don’t think (classmate) Cole Leneschmidt shook me off once all season.”
Senior third baseman Dominic Rodts said he’ll be concentrating on his engineering major at N.C. State in the fall.
“This season was really good,” Rodts said. “I just love these guys. This team was tighter than any I have ever played on. Every single person on this team and on this coaching staff has helped make me a better baseball player and a person.”