Green Hope pitcher Mitch Spence had to quickly wipe away the disappointment of falling agonizingly short of a no-hitter on Wednesday, as there was still the matter of putting away Middle Creek and taking over sole possession of first place in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference.
After some anxious moments, Spence and his teammates did just that, holding on for a 2-0 victory over the visiting Mustangs when Middle Creek’s Jake Forte flied out to center field with runners on second and third for the final out.
Spence, who lost his no-hit bid with two outs in the seventh inning when Middle Creek’s when Zack Moore ripped a sharp single to left field, finished with a two-hitter. He struck out nine as Green Hope (19-4, 12-3) moved a game ahead of Middle Creek (16-7, 11-4) with one league contest remaining for each team and also avenged a 5-1 loss to the Mustangs on March 24.
Austen Jones and Drew Hegeman each had RBI singles for the Falcons.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“I was more worried about winning the game and getting the (conference lead),” Spence said of losing the no-hitter. “I was a little upset but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Spence had allowed just three baserunners prior to the seventh inning, two via walks and another when David Allen reached on an error with one out in the fifth inning.
Moore, however, ripped a no-doubt single past third baseman Jordan Montgomery with two out in the seventh. Ryan Sholar followed with a single to right and a wild pitch by Spence put runners on second and third before the senior right-hander managed to retire Forte to end the game.
Jones’ run-scoring hit came in the first inning. Connor Knapp singled to center to lead off the inning and two outs later Spence drew a walk before Jones lined a single to center to plate Knapp for a 1-0 Green Hope lead.
Green Hope made it 2-0 in the fifth inning, piecing three hits together with two outs. Knapp reached on infield single, Sean McQuillan followed with a bloop single to shallow right before Hegeman singled to left to score Knapp.
“I told the guys the day before the season I had no idea, this could have gone one of two ways because we had so many new guys on the team,” Green Hope coach Mike Miragliuolo said. “I knew we had some good pitching but I didn’t know where we’d find offense and defense.
“I said we might win four games or we might win 20 … and they just reminded me that I said we might win four games.”
They said it
“We decided to leave our bats on the bus, and we didn’t play with the same energy we’ve had,” Middle Creek coach Wesley King said. “Their pitcher had a lot to do with that, he’s a good pitcher and he threw a good game. But when you don’t bring your hitting game against a pitcher like that it’s going to be a tough day.”
Three to know
Mitch Spence, Green Hope: He got ahead of the Middle Creek hitters for much of Wednesday’s contest, and he only had a handful of hard-hit balls against him to make it easy for his defense.
Connor Knapp, Green Hope: Had a pair of hits, eventually scoring after both, as the Falcons’ leadoff hitter set the table offensively.
Robbie Frongello, Middle Creek: The submarine-style right-hander shook off a tough first inning to keep Green Hope’s hitters at bay, allowing one run and two hits over his four innings. He retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Green Hope is assured a share of the SWAC title but will try to win the outright title and league’s No. 1 seeding for the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs when it hosts Athens Drive on Thursday. Middle Creek visits Apex on Friday, needing a win and a Green Hope loss to set up either a tie-breaker game (weather-permitting) or coin toss for the No. 1 seeding.