West Brunswick baseball’s second half hot streak took the team to the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs, but it ended in Greenville on May 12 against J.H. Rose, 4-2.
“There’s really not much to say, I just tell them to hug on each other, love on each other. When you play high school ball it’s the last time at the end of the season that same group is going to be together. You will have some of the same guys back, but you don’t ever have that whole group back. You lose the seniors. It’s a tough moment for them and I try to tell them when that realization comes that the season is over and high school is over like a snap of a finger, you know, it’s hard to put that into words and it’s hard to console somebody. You just have to try your best,” West Brunswick head baseball coach Greg Wrape said after the game.
The Trojan varsity baseball team’s trip to historic Guy Smith Stadium Friday became a pitching duel between Rose junior pitcher Andrew Wallen, a UNC-Chapel Hill commit, and the Trojans’ Zach Steagall.
Wallen pitched a complete game allowing two runs on three hits and three walks in seven innings, while striking out 12 Trojan batters.
Steagall pitched 6 and 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts.
But errors ultimately doomed the Trojans, as little mistakes played a role in each run the Ramparts scored.
After Wallen struck out the side in the top of the first, Rose took the lead 2-0 in the bottom of the inning.
The first batter Steagall faced hit a 3-2 pitch for a ground ball up the first base line that went under first baseman Luka DeRicco’s glove, allowing the runner to go to second base.
The next batter also hit a groundball to first, DeRicco bobbled the ball but made the toss to Steagall covering the bag to beat runner for the first out while the base runner advanced to third.
A walk put runners at the corners and then a pickoff attempt at first went wrong as DeRicco couldn’t block a throw in the dirt and the ball rolled to the fence along right field. Trojan senior right fielder Gabe Abbott chased the ball down in the corner of the park and rocketed the ball to sophomore catcher Garrett Powell who caught it and made a play at the plate on the runner who came around from first. But the umpire called the Rose player safe to put them up 2-0.
Powell chased down a grounder and made the force out at first for the second out and Steagall ended the inning with a strikeout.
Steagall would go on to strike out the side in the second and start the third ringing up his fifth straight batter.
In the top of the second, Steagall walked to become West’s first batter to reach base, but the Trojans couldn’t move the runner over.
Wallen got another 1-2-3 inning from the Trojans with a strikeout and pair of popups.
In the bottom of the third, after Steagall’s fifth K, he allowed a walk on a 3-2 count and a passed ball gave the runner second base. A groundout to shortstop Noah Fluharty put the runner on third, which was followed by a double to the fence in right center that drove in another run to put the Rampants up 3-0.
The Trojans made it a game again in the top of the fourth when senior Landon Everhart walked, giving West just their second runner of the game.
Linden Clemmons hit a line drive into right center but Rose right fielder Owen Boyd tracked it down and made a diving stab to catch the ball and hold the runner at first.
Steagall came up for his second at bat and faced a 3-1 count when he hit a two-run homerun over the left centerfield fence to make it a 3-2 game.
“First home run ever. It was great. It’s a great feeling. I thought I’d never feel it. Coming through the count, I got ahead early. And I think it was a 3-0 or 3-1 count. I was looking one pitch, a fastball. I was hoping the inside part, that way I could get a hard swing on it and it came to me. A hard inside fastball. I just put a good swing on it,” Steagall said.
“I kind of felt it off the bat. It looked like it was going to get out. As soon as I hit first base and saw the left fielder and centerfielder just kind of watch it, I felt a rush right there. I kind of felt a high.”
“I’ll tell you what, the ball flies at this park. When I was hitting fly balls before the game, I was barely hitting them and they were flying out there. But he just cranked that ball. He’s just had great at-bats. You put together great at-bats, you have confidence that good things will happen. That’s what he did,” Wrape said.
Back on the mound in the bottom of the fourth Steagall struck out two batters and a groundout to Fluharty made quick work of the Rampants.
Powell led off the top of the fifth inning by chopping a single into short left field that fell in front of the diving fielder. Faulders then made a sacrifice bunt to move Powell to second base.
Austin Inman hit a groundball through the infield into center for a single, which put runners at the corners. But with the tying run leading off third, Fluharty popped up to the pitcher and Needham hit a dribbler to second for a ground out, stranding the runner.
“If you think about the inning before Zach hit the home run, the (Rose) kid makes a Sports Center play, which if he doesn’t make that, we score a run. And that homerun ties it. That’s how close it is. We had first and third with one out and we couldn’t get it across. And that’s baseball,” Wrape said.
That ended West’s ability to threaten Rose. Steagall walked again in the sixth inning but Wallen made three strikeouts around him.
In the bottom of the sixth, Rose added one more insurance run.
Steagall recorded his eighth strikeout to start the at-bat, but gave up a single into right field and a single into short center to put two runners on.
A double play ball was hit to Faulders, but an error on the throw to Fluharty covering second allowed the lead runner to come around and score while the runner from first beat the throw to third. Rose went up 4-2 with runners at third and second.
Wrape pulled Steagall to go to Everhart in relief. Steagall stayed in the game in right field, moving Abbott to center.
“You know he had a great game when the other stands are standing up and clapping for him when he came off the mound. This is a baseball city right here, no doubt about it, and to earn the respect of an away group of fans is amazing,” Wrape said of Steagall.
“After about the fourth week of the season, something clicked in him on the mound and he just was an absolute bulldog. Not only that, but what he did at the plate all season was just incredible. He had a terrific season. I hope somebody is watching him and understands how good that kid is.”
Everhart got out of the inning when Steagall caught a fly ball in right and threw home where Powell tagged out the runner from third.
But in the top of the seventh, West batters couldn’t get the ball out of the infield as Rose made three force outs on groundballs by Powell, Faulders and Inman to end the ballgame.
“You know how it is against good teams like this, they make you earn everything and you cannot give them anything free. We honestly spotted them two runs in the first inning with some poor play. You just cannot do that against them. They made us pay for everything. And they did almost everything right on the defensive side of the ball. These teams make you earn everything. You know that they can be beat, but you have to play well. I’m not saying perfect, but you cannot give them freebies,” Wrape said.
“I’ve been impressed by our team’s ability, especially after the Easter tournament, to be down a couple of runs and not feel like they were out of it. They continue to compete. Like we were down at Southern Nash through the sixth inning and we found a way to win. There were so many times like that throughout the season we just found a way to win. Tonight was similar, so I was impressed with their tenacity as a group down the stretch.”
West Brunswick 2, Southern Nash 1
The Trojans used a trio of pitchers to keep Southern Nash off the base paths and then West came through with a big inning at the plate to win their first-round NCHSAA 3A playoff game in Bailey 2-1 on Wednesday, May 10.
DeRicco started on the mound for the Trojans and gave up the only run to the Firebirds’ starting pitcher Landen Baker, who hit a homerun with one out in the first.
DeRicco then settled down to pitch four innings allowing only four hits and two walks, while striking out three batters.
West didn’t have any success against Baker until Fluharty hit a single into center field in the top of the fourth inning and then stole second. But he was picked off between two strikeouts to end the threat.
In the top of the fifth Needham singled and DeRicco hit a line drive off Baker, but he hit it right back to the pitcher who threw to first for a double play. Then he struck out Powell to get out of the inning.
DeRicco pitched into the fifth inning but gave up a single past third base to the leadoff hitter.
Wrape brought in Everhart in relief, which paid off with a strikeout and then a groundball to Fluharty at shortstop, who stepped on second base and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
West took the lead in the top of the sixth. Steagall led off with a double and then Linden Clemmons, making his first plate appearance in a month, hit an RBI-double over the right fielder to tie the score 1-1.
Clemmons was replaced with pinch runner Inman, who went from second to third base on sacrifice bunt by Sincere Ledbetter.
Fluharty then hit a groundball up the middle and the second baseman threw home but was not in time to beat Inman’s slide into the plate for the 2-1 West lead.
Wrape put Steagall in to pitch the sixth and seventh innings and he started the remarkable run that continued against J.H. Rose as he recorded five strikeouts out of six batters he faced.
Steagall struck out the side in the sixth, then struck out the first two batters in the seventh before West wrapped up the playoff win on a groundout to second.
“Our team, they decided after a rough couple of games that were a lot better than what we were. That we just needed to unlock our potential. I took it upon myself, since most of the guys see me as the number one pitcher, they expected me to go out there and do my best and dominate the game. And that’s what I needed to do. And these past couple games, I felt like I did my job. Tonight, we made a couple of mistakes here and there. I made one with the pickoff. But we just did everything we could. we played hard from inning one through seven and that’s all you can ask for,” Steagall said of the playoff games.
“It’s been a great season. More than I could ever ask for. These past couple years, they’ve been really rough. Then Coach Wrape coming in, he did everything that we could ask for. He’s probably the greatest coach that we could have had in that situation to rebuild this program. And we’re just a family. We were a family from week one. We did everything together. It’s hard that it’s over. But you can’t ask for a better last year. I just love my guys and I’m going to miss it.”
Brian Slattery is the sports editor for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 910-239-7433 or email@example.com.
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