So what if Fuquay-Varina lost the first game in a best-of-three series? So what if, after getting just six outs in Game 2, the Bengals lost their ace to injury and he was unable to pitch the rest of the way? So what if they blew two leads in Game 3? Or dealt with two rain delays in as many days?
What’s a championship without some adversity?
The Bengals won the N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball title for the first time since 2002, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh to down Ardrey Kell 10-6 in a decisive Game 3 on Saturday night at Five County Stadium. Earlier on Saturday, the Bengals (22-12) defeated Kell 3-2 to force a winner-take-all final game. The Knights (27-7) from Charlotte won Game 1 on Friday night 3-0.
“They’re as tough as nails,” said first-year Fuquay coach Zach Boraski of his players. “We had everyone step up.”
The series didn’t start as hoped when Kell’s ace, South Carolina recruit Trey Tujetsch, threw six innings of shutout ball, striking out 10 batters, but Fuquay was ready to go in Game 2 with its ace: senior Kyle Mott. But Mott, who also hits third in the order, was hit in the foot with a line drive to end the second inning and was unable to return until Game 3.
But Fuquay-Varina wasn’t going to go away easily. This is a town where kids grow up with hopes of wearing the orange-and-black to play in games like these. Boraski, a former player and bat boy, is an embodiment of these dreams.
Unlikely heroes – like pinch hitter T.J. Hardy, who had an RBI single batting in Mott’s spot in the order, and Joe Arnett, who pitched three solid innings of relief pitching in Game 2 despite having rainfall interrupt his back-to-back appearances in the series – stepped forward for Fuquay, and the Bengals rolled into Game 3 with momentum.
In Game 3, the Bengals went up 4-0 in the second thanks to an RBI single from Vinny Consolo, a wild pitch, an RBI single from Matthew Long and a throwing error. But the lead was erased in the bottom of the third as Kell plated four. They were the only runs Fuquay pitcher Austin Johnson allowed in five innings of work.
Fuquay took a 6-4 lead after a sac fly by Long in the top of the fifth and a deep RBI single by Mott – who was cleared to play in Game 3 after an X-ray in Game 2, but only played first base and did not pitch as a precautionary measure – but Kell wouldn’t go away. The Knights scored two in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single and a bases-loaded walk.
The Bengals once again stepped up.
Fuquay faced three Kell pitchers in the seventh, tagging the first two with three earned runs with just one out surrendered. The runners scored on an error following a single by Wesley Noles to right field, a two-RBI single from Howell with the bases loaded and an RBI single from Matthew Long (3 of 4 in Game 3 with three RBIs).
Garrett McCraw, who pitched the sixth and seventh innings after moving from center field, got the win as he sat down the last three Kell batters in order.
“It just shows you that we’re a bunch of battlers. We didn’t come here and do anything different. We battled all year, and we finally got here and we pulled it through, we took it home,” said leadoff hitter Jack Howell, who was named MVP after hitting .375 for the series and reaching base seven times (three hits, four walks).
Game 2: Fuquay wins 3-2
Losing Mott, a Pitt County Community College recruit who had not allowed a postseason run in three starts, could’ve been a back-breaker for the Bengals. But Fuquay found itself with the game’s first lead when Noles singled in McCraw to go up 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Noles was the first batter after a 40-minute rain delay stopped the action.
Kell took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth on a 2-run double by Parker Ledford, who had five RBIs in the series, but it was answered quickly by Fuquay when Hardy – batting in Mott’s spot in the order – delivered an RBI single to drive in Howell in the bottom half of the inning.
Shortstop Cameron Johnson doubled two batters later to bring in Long, and Fuquay-Varina was up 3-2.
Arnett pitched the next three innings after Mott exited and got the win, allowing two earned runs, striking out one and walking two. McCraw pitched the last two innings of relief for the save, striking out two.
Luke Carpenter, after picking up the save in Game 1 for the Knights, started Game 2 and got the loss.
Game 1: Kell wins 3-0
Fuquay starting pitcher David Keith struck out five in 5 1/3 innings of work and gave up just four hits, but three of those hits were doubles in the bottom of the third. And that’s where the Knights did their damage.
Cam Brantley, the Knights’ leadoff batter and UNC recruit, came to the plate with one away and one on and doubled to the right field warning track. That gave Kell runners at second and third. Ledford, the three-hole hitter, rocketed a two-out double down the third base line to score two. Tujetsch, the clean-up hitter, followed that up with a frozen rope deep down the right field line to double and score Ledford.
Tujetsch, a South Carolina recruit, posted 10 strikeouts, walked three and allowed no runs allowed in six innings of work. The Bengals loaded the bases in the final inning, but Carpenter picked up the save after getting two batters out.
Lightning and rain delayed the game 46 minutes, starting with Arnett’s first warmup pitches. It was the first of two times Arnett was Fuquay’s official pitcher when the game entered a rain delay.