A team finally scored a postseason run while Fuquay-Varina pitcher Kyle Mott was on the mound, but that wasn’t enough by itself.
Instead, the Bengals are heading back to the state baseball championship series next week after defeating Apex 3-1 in the deciding Game 3 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East final series on Friday.
Apex struck first as C.J. Conrad, who doubled to lead off the game, came home on a passed ball for a 1-0 lead. Mott had pitched two complete games in the playoffs thus far: a 3-0 win in the second round against Green Hope and a 4-0 win over Sanderson in the fourth round. This wasn’t an earned run against him, but it was the first time Fuquay-Varina had trailed with him throwing.
But that lead didn’t last long as a Garrett McGraw single and Cameron Johnson double in the bottom half of the inning each drove in a run, putting Fuquay (20-11) up 2-1. The Bengals tacked on a Matthew Long RBI single in the fifth inning, and Mott cruised through six complete innings before McGraw picked up the save in the seventh.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“First inning I was really struggling to command off-speed pitches and throw strikes,” Mott said. “Once I started to develop the off-speed throughout the game, it helped keep them off-balance.”
The Bengals will play Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell in next week’s championship at a site to be determined. The state title is also a best-of-three series, with Game 1 on Friday followed by one or two games, depending on what happens in Game 2, on Saturday.
Fuquay was last in the state title series in 2013.
Bengals head coach Zach Boraski was last in the title game with the program in 2002, when he was the team’s 10-year-old bat boy.
“As the game went on, I started to process it a little bit,” Boraski said. “I’ll probably need at least until tonight to realize how big it is and enjoy the moment.”
After both teams received their regional champ and regional runner-up trophies, players from Fuquay and Apex pointed across the field to one another to commend the other on a competitive series.
After Fuquay won Game 1 11-1 in six innings, Apex forced Game 3 with a 2-0 win in Game 2.
Apex (18-10) appeared low on pitching entering Game 3, but instead allowed just one earned run as Zachary Ferrell, a senior outfielder, made just his fifth appearance on the mound this season. He had only thrown 100 pitches on the year.
But he pitched 42/3 innings, emblematic of the toughness shown by a senior-led team that had won three straight road playoff games to reach the East final.
“We didn’t play like we were a 15-seed,” Apex coach Mike Valder said. “We gave ourselves a chance. I’m proud of the seniors for their leadership and I’m proud of the guts of these kids. We could’ve certainly laid over last night (in Game 2) and we didn’t and hey – Game 3, we were right there – and I’m proud of them.”
Cleveland’s softball team completed at two-game sweep of Western Alamance in the 3A East best-of-three series. The 8-3 victory Friday on the Rams’ field advanced the Rams to their first state final in any sport.
Pitcher Julia Wiggs, the Rams’ only senior, hit one of team’s two three-run homers and struck out eight. Just two of the Warriors’ three runs were earned.
Cleveland sophomore first baseman Caris Allen broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a three-run home run she slammed over the centerfield fence. Western Alamance closed the deficit to 5-3 in the top of the sixth, but Wiggs hit her three-run homer to left for a five-run cushion entering the seventh.
Cleveland’s Allen, Kayla Womack and Nikki Piatek each scored two runs. Womack also knocked in the first run of the game when she scored Peyton Jenkins with a sacrifice fly ball to center field in the third inning.
South Granville’s softball team beat North Johnston twice within 24 hours to make quick work of the 2A East series that ended a long week. The Vikings had beaten North Johnston 12-9 on Friday night in the first game of the best-of-three before taking the clincher that started at 2 p.m.Saturday.
But before the regional championship series began, South Granville had to overcome a week of rain delays in the fourth round. The Vikings and Whiteville finally took the field Thursday, with South Granville winning 7-5 in nine innings.
The Vikings (25-0) have advanced to their fourth straight state final despite a young lineup: only two seniors with five sophomores and two freshmen, including frosh pitcher Brook Bolling. The Vikings won 2A state titles in 2015 and 2016 before settling for runner-up in 2017.
“We don’t teach them how to play high school softball, we teach them to play college ball,” said Vikings coach coach Jackie Day of his team’s consistency. “We have a culture on this team. We teach them to be accountable to each other and then go out and play.”
South Granville senior left fielder Brianne Coleman was 2-of-4 with three RBIs. Sophomore shortstop Emma Jones was 2-of-3 with three runs scored. Freshman second baseman Jenna Curry was 2-of-3 with two runs scored and one RBI.
South Granville’s strategy included not giving North Johnston’s UNC-Wilmington-bound Jada Santiago a chance to beat them. After Santiago hit a three-run homer in the first inning of Friday night’s game, the Vikings walked her the final three times she came to the plate Friday and all four times on Saturday. Santiago’s Friday home run set a school season record of 14. She scored twice on Saturday.
Fittingly, a downpour hit the Creedmoor area 75 minutes after the 2 p.m. game ended, meaning had North Johnston (27-3) won Saturday afternoon to force a third game Saturday evening it would have been delayed by rain.
South Central ended its season with a 5-1 loss at Fayetteville’s Jack Britt High on Friday. The Falcons (23-3) got an RBI double from Amya Evans in the loss.
The postseason finish matches South Central’s longest playoff run in school history.
North Lenoir fell at home to Whiteville in Game 2 of the 2A East baseball series by a 4-1 score, thus ending the Hawks’ season with a 20-7 overall record.
North Lenoir has had quite the two-year run, winning 41 games and reached at least the fourth round of the postseason in back-to-back seasons.