May 30, 2014
The 4-A East baseball battle between the Millbrook Wildcats and Richmond County Raiders will take one more game to settle.
In the second game of the series Thursday night, Richmond scored the game’s only two runs in the third inning and starting Raider pitcher Nic Bullard struck out ten batters, including the last six he faced, to force a third game in the best-of-three eastern regional final series.
The Wildcats will go on the road to Rockingham on Friday night with a trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A baseball state championship on the line.
“Now it’s just like every game we've played in the playoffs so far,” said Millbrook head coach Austin James. “Forget the first two of the series—now it’s a one-game playoff.
“We feel good having a chance when it comes down to one game. We know we’re going to have to play better than we did tonight but we still like our chances.”
Richmond will play in the final game of the regional final series for the third consecutive year. The Raiders have failed to get over the hump and into the state championship series in each of the past two seasons.
The Raiders’ win in Raleigh was the third time Bullard had started in a regional series for Richmond and the first time he emerged victorious.
“I had business I had to take care of,” Bullard said. “It was a personal thing. I’ve been told I’m a choke artist and I had a personal debt to come out and pay tonight.”
Millbrook managed just three hits in the game, the first of which coming in the second inning when starting pitcher Alex Royalty singled. Brian Miller tripled in the third and Ali Fathullahzadeh doubled in the fifth but the Wildcats stranded all three runners on base.
The Wildcats went down in order in the bottom of the sixth and seventh as Bullard put away the game for the Raiders with a string of consecutive strikeouts.
“He got stronger as the night went on,” said James. “Credit to him—he threw a great game. He just had us off balance and guessing. When you’re guessing, that’s not a recipe for scoring runs.”
The Raiders scored their runs through a sequence of hits in the top of the third. After Kevin Lee singled off Royalty and stole second, Cody Leviner singled to put two men on. When Leviner stole second during the ensuing Mike Rush at-bat, Lee took off from third and stole home for the first run of the game.
Rush eventually moved to first on a fielder’s choice before stealing second and coming home on Bradley Brown’s single. The 2-0 score held through the end of the game. The Raiders stole four bases in the inning and five in the game. Richmond head coach Ricky Young said the Raiders typically have an aggressive approach when on base.
“We knew tonight we were going to have to come up and try to find a way to scratch out a victory,” Young said. “We didn't think Nic would allow many runs, if any, and we know Royalty is a very good pitcher for them.”
Royalty pitched a complete game for Millbrook and struck out four. The Wildcats have now gotten six consecutive complete games from their pitching staff in the postseason. The team committed just one error in the game.
Two nights after several costly Richmond errors helped Millbrook put up runs and win the first game of the series, the Raiders played a clean and error-free game to help Bullard leave Raleigh with the win, despite the loud and distracting playoff atmosphere from both sets of fans.
“He’s been our stud for three years,” said Young. “He’s a returning all-state conference player of the year and he’s pitched a lot of big games in three years for us, so we knew he could handle the situation and he rose to the occasion.”
Friday’s winner-take-all third game at Richmond County will start at 7 and will test both teams’ pitching depth. The winner will face the western regional champion West Forsyth Titans in next week’s championship.
“We’re known as choke artists and that’s not how anybody wants to go out,” Bullard said. “We’re going to come out hungry and it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT
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