May 27, 2014
Brian Miller (5) sprints for home after an overthrow gives him an opportunity to advance. Millbrook shut out Panther Creek 5-0 to advance to the Regional Final. (Photo by: Jerome Carpenter)
Just two weeks remain in North Carolina's 2014 high school baseball season and it would be fair to predict that they will be pretty unpredictable.
Making an impressive postseason run that includes wins over Green Hope, Apex and Panther Creek, the Millbrook Wildcats find themselves in the 4-A eastern regional final round for the first time since 1993. Their opponent? A team that isn't quite as unfamiliar with the stage.
The Richmond County Raiders will host the Wildcats tonight in the first game of the three-game regional series. The series will come to Raleigh for its second game before a third game goes back to Richmond, if needed.
Here are a few things to know about the Wildcats and Raiders while waiting for tonight's action:
1) Richmond has been here a lot
This week marks the Raiders' third consecutive trip to the eastern regional final series. Last season, the team lost to eventual state runner-up Fuquay-Varina. The year before, Richmond lost to eventual state champion Middle Creek. Both series went to a third and final game. The Raiders lost to Middle Creek on the road but fell to Fuquay last year at home in a 12-0 blowout that lasted just five innings.
2) Millbrook has a shot at school history
If the Wildcats win two more games this season, not only will they be on their way to the school's first-ever championship appearance, they'll also be achieving a milestone in a key statistical category. In the program's history, only the 1994 and 2002 Millbrook baseball teams have won 21 games. The 2014 Wildcats are currently sitting at 19 wins. You do the math.
3) The Wildcats aren't ALL pitching
While it's easy to see that Millbrook's postseason run has included superb pitching from Gunner Deal (just two losses this year, has a great name) and Alex Royalty (just one loss this year, also has a great name) with a solid third pitcher in Chris Scott, the team has been getting it done on offense lately as well.
Through the first four rounds of the playoffs, Millbrook posted 18 runs. That's the most runs scored in a four-game stretch for the Wildcats since a 25-run output spanning from April 11 to April 29 and partially inflated by an 11-0 win against Enloe. Guys like Brian Miller, Chris Scott, Spencer Williams, Basil Rodts, Connor McKenney, Alex Richards, Marcello Betances, Mark Bellesheim and Ali Fathullazadeh are getting it done as well as they have all year and head coach Austin James says he feels good about his lineup, 1-9.
4) The Raiders carry a ton of momentum into the week
Meanwhile, Richmond County is showing the Rockingham area a quality baseball product. The Raiders are riding an 11-game win streak into tonight's meeting and came back from a 4-1 deficit while scoring five runs in the seventh inning to defeat J.H. Rose in their fourth-round win last week. The team has an overall record of 21-6-1 with a home record of 12-3. The Raiders have scored 174 runs this year compared to Millbrook's 129.
5) Richmond has edge in strength of schedule
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have lots of nice things to say about the competitive level of high school baseball in Wake County. If you don't follow me on Twitter, I'll say it here too: Wake County is good at baseball. Playing in the Cap-8 Conference and facing a good amount of Southwest Wake Athletic Conference talent during non-conference and postseason games, the Wildcats' opponents finished with a combined 226-183 record this season.
Richmond, however, has faced a ton of good teams too. The Raiders play in the Southeastern conference that includes Pinecrest (20-6) and Lumberton (15-10). In addition, Richmond County mixed in some talented non-conference competition throughout the year, including Terry Sanford (19-7), Northwest Guilford (21-6), Southern Lee (20-9) and North Brunswick (21-5). The record of the Raiders' combined 2014 competition is 304-183-1. This proves that while not playing against some of the Triangle's best teams, the Raiders have still faced some tough challenges.
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT