Fuquay-Varina first baseman Andrew Alexander said it was a play the Bengals have practiced countless times. They knew what to do on the rare time it was needed.
Alexander recorded final out at home plate on a rundown play that preserved a comeback 7-6 victory over Pinecrest on Tuesday night in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
“Rundowns are part of the game,” Fuquay associate head coach Zach Boraski said. “They’re boring, but you have to work on them.”
Fuquay scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning to rally all the way back from a 5-0 deficit after the first inning and 6-0 after two. But in the bottom of the seventh, Pinecrest had runners on first and second with two outs when pinch-hitter Jack Leonard hit a line drive to right field.
Fuquay’s Vinny Conselo, in the game as a defensive replacement, threw a strike to catcher Lane Rhodes that forced Pinecrest’s Tommy Vinson to turn back to third. Rhodes threw to third baseman Dylan Chrisco.
At that point, some first basemen might have been watching the play, but Alexander was where he was supposed to be. He headed home and was in place to take Chrisco’s throw back to the plate for an easy 9-2-5-3 tag. It touched off a celebration that sent the No. 16-seeded Bengals (19-7) to the fourth round.
“We work on rundowns and bunt plays all the time,” Alexander said casually.
The final play was example of routine drills paying off, but there was nothing ordinary about Fuquay’s comeback. The Bengals have back-to-back comeback victories that includes a second round win over No. 3 Jordan.
Pinecrest (21-7) was the No. 9 seed that upset No. 7 seed Leesville Road before suffering its first home loss of the year.
“This was a season to remember for us,” Pinecrest coach Jeff Hewitt said. “We’ve got kids that been with us four years as varsity players and a group of young kids that we’ve put through mental toughness days. They showed the heart this year, but we just didn’t get it done late in the game.
He continued: “We sat on a lead, and you can’t do that against a team like Fuquay. We have to help our kids learn from this and wish our seniors good luck and goodbye.”
Pinecrest erupted for five first-inning runs. The big blow in the first was Vinson’s three-run home run to left-center field after the Patriots had already pushed across two runs. Pinecrest added another run in the second inning for a 6-0 lead.
But Fuquay began chipping away while the pitching settled down with 5 2/3 shutout innings. Ryan Rizk came on in relief in the second and got two outs to end the rally. Garrett McCraw entered in the third and worked four innings until Brycen Braswell finished game in the seventh.
Fuquay center fielder Kevin Catrine kept the Bengals in the game with two diving catches of sinking line drives into right-centerfield in the second inning when the Patriots scored a run. The first was against the leadoff batter; the second with two outs and runners on first and second.
In the third, he fielded a sharply-hit ball on one skip while on the run and threw a strike to Alexander at first base to get the runner on an unusual 8-3 putout.
“I’m just doing my job,” he said. “It’s a big deal to me to play the best defense I can.”
The Bengals began chipping away with two runs in the third on a two-run single by Rizk and two more in the fifth on a two-run homer by McCraw.
In the seventh, Boraski emptied the bench with a pinch-hitter and two pinch-runners.
It started with three straight walks to Rizk and Alexander, a fly ball out and a walk to McCraw to load the bases. Ryan DeBoskey came on as a pinch runner for Alexander and John Roberts for McCraw.
Kyle Mott’s pinch-hit single scored Rizk and DeBosky and advanced to Roberts to third. Second baseman Matthew Lane, the No. 9 hitter, followed with a fly ball to right field deep enough to score Roberts with winning run standing up.
There was more drama in the bottom of the inning, but a boring practice play took care of that.
“We never give up,” Catrine said. “Coach always says, ‘compete.’ It’s in our clubhouse written on a whiteboard. We always believe in each other. It goes back to our JV years – grinding it out as a team.”