A week ago South Granville’s baseball team swept the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A East Regional final with a pitching staff deeper than vanquished Edenton Holmes might have realized.
First, N.C. State-bound junior right-hander Justin Bullock won the opener of the best-of-three series 4-0 with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
In the second game, another N.C. State-committed pitcher, left-handed sophomore Holden Laws, struck out 10 through 6 1/3 innings before he faltered. Holmes rallied for a 3-3 tie in the top of the seventh and had a runner on first with one out when Justin Brown was called on to move from third base to the mound.
Holmes soon learned the hard way that Brown is the Vikings’ third college-bound pitcher.
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A senior committed to UNC Pembroke, Brown ended the threat with a strikeout. In the bottom half of the seventh, the Vikings scored to send the defending 2A state champions back to the 2A state finals this week against West champion East Rutherford.
“That’s Justin Brown,” said South Granville coach Curt Watkins. “He’s a veteran. He came into a pressure situation and did his job. He wants the ball in those situations.”
Something else that identifies Brown: MVP of the 2015 2A state finals.
In last year’s win over Randleman, Brown pitched four innings of relief to preserve the win in the first game. After the Vikings dropped the second contest, Brown won the decisive third game with five innings of relief work.
Now, fast forward to the 2016 season. Some reigning MVPs would have been distracted by two underclassmen holding the starting pitching roles, but Brown’s game is more mature than most high school kids’.
“Anyone of us could be the ace, but I had a little arm trouble when the season started,” Brown said. “They stepped up, and Holden is having a year like I had last year. That doesn’t bother me. All three of us are going to college and were helping our team win. If someone goes down, we pick them up. We’ve had great chemistry on this team last year and this year.”
Brown adds that South Granville kids grow up understanding baseball’s tradition of excellence.
Matt Harrison, an All-Star pitcher with the Texas Rangers in 2012, is a South Granville alumnus. Watkins pitched for the Vikings as a 1998 grad.
“There’s something in the water here,” Brown said of the small school.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder is playing his best baseball down the stretch. He is 5-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 37 innings pitched. At the plate, he’s batting .375. In the clinching 4-3 win over Holmes, he was 2-for-3 with an RBI single.
But despite his high school versatility, he’s looking forward to focusing on pitching at Pembroke, a strong NCAA Division II program.
“When I took my visit, they had everything on my checklist,” he said. “They have good degrees, it’s not as expensive as other schools and they have a stout baseball program. The coaches were straightforward with me.”
He said some Division I coaches showed interest but didn’t offer. His fastball of 84 to 85 mph was said to lack 2-to-3 mph for Division I. He’s lately been throwing consistently at 87, but he remains satisfied with the role he will play at Pembroke.
“I’d rather play than sit on the bench for two or three years at a DI school,” he said. “I love pitching. I love having the pace of the game in my hands. I have to hold up my end at that position. I love having that pressure on me.”