The 11-year wait is over for the Fuquay-Varina High School baseball team.
The Bengals, facing elimination from the Eastern 4A Regionals after a 3-2 loss to Richmond Senior on Thursday, roared back to take the second game 8-1 at home the next night and then rolled to a 12-0 triumph in the decisive game Saturday in Rockingham, advancing to the state championship series for the first time since 2002.
The Bengals (28-4), the Tri-Nine Conference champion, will battle Western Regional champion South Mecklenburg (25-7) in the Class 4A state championship series beginning tonight at 8 p.m. at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. Fuquay-Varina last won a state baseball championship in 2002. Richmond (28-3) had won 28 straight games before the Game Two loss to Fuquay.
Fuquay-Varina played error-free baseball the final two games and relied on solid pitching, timely hitting and mistakes by the Raiders to advance.
Jordan Bissette, the starter on the mound Saturday, fired a three-hit shutout with three strikeouts and two walks and guaranteed the Tri-Nine will have a representative in the state finals for the third consecutive year. The Tri-Nine will look to make it three state titles in a row – Middle Creek won it last year, while Holly Springs took the 2011 crown.
“It was a good win,” said F-V coach Milton Senter. “We got a lead early and Jordan pitched very well. The four runs in the third took the crowd out of the game and then we had the big inning in the top of the fifth. It was a really great performance by Jordan, and we had some timely hitting and baserunning, and our defense was excellent.
“Playing down there is not easy. They had a lot of people who were very loud and excited. But I think (our win) on Friday took a lot out of them after they had won 28 in a row.”
The Bengals got things started in the top of the first inning when Garrett Suggs reached on a dropped third strike and moved to third on a bad pickoff throw. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Scott.
Fuquay then tacked on four more runs in the top of the third inning to make it 5-0. Bissette was walked by opposing pitcher Nic Bullard, and a bad pickoff attempt moved him to second, setting the stage for Joe Williams’ RBI double. Three more runs scored with two outs – Brett Daniels smacked a two-run double and later came around on a Raiders’ error.
“Bullard was their conference’s player of the year,” Senter said. “We knew he had thrown 110-plus pitches earlier in the week against Garner in a five-inning game, so we wanted to go deep in the count, see if we could get some people on base and get him out of the game.”
The Bengals put the contest away with a seven-run top of the fifth inning.
D.J. Burt had a double and a two-run single in the frame, Daniels added a single, and errors and walks – including two with the bases loaded that brought home runs – added to Richmond’s misery. A wild pitch plated the final run for the Bengals.
Fuquay-Varina had just six hits – two each by Williams, Burt and Daniels – but took advantage of every opportunity afforded them by the Raiders.
The Bengals forced the decisive third game with a solid outing from Daniels on the mound in the second game of the series on Friday.
Daniels scattered eight hits while walking one and striking out nine in becoming the Bengals’ single-season record holder for wins (12).
“We won without Brett having his best stuff but we made the plays behind him,” Senter said. “The guys were aggressive at the plate, and the difference was we took advantage of hitter’s pitches rather than pitcher’s pitches.”
The F-V righty got out of a jam in the top of the first after allowing a single to Jeremy Smith and a one-out walk, but a 4-6-3 double play (Scott to Burt to Nick Yarbrough) ended the threat.
Suggs led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run to centerfield, making it 1-0 Bengals. Scott then doubled off the fence in right center, moved to third on a one-out sacrifice fly by Daniels and scored on Yarbrough’s single to make it 2-0.
Daniels retired five in a row and Fuquay made it 3-0 in the bottom of the third when Yarbrough’s groundout brought in Suggs, who reached on an infield single and advanced on a walk to Scott and a single by Daniels.
The Raiders cut the deficit to 3-1 in the top of the fourth on three hits, but Daniels got a strikeout and a pop-up to Yarbrough at first to stop the rally.
Bissette was hit by a pitch to start the rally in the bottom of the fourth for Fuquay. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and after an intentional walk to Suggs, Scott came through with a single past second to make it 4-1.
The Raiders’ final threat came in the top of the sixth when Jacob Sears and Taylor McLean singled with two outs. Again, Daniels worked out of it with a strikeout.
The Bengals then put Richmond away with four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Perry Gray reached on an infield hit but strained his hamstring and was lifted for James Tutor. Suggs executed a perfect bunt that stayed inside the third-base line for a hit, and Scott reached on his sacrifice bunt when no one covered first base.
Burt then singled in a run, Daniels followed with a run-scoring single, and an error on a throw following a fielder’s choice plated Burt to make it 7-1. Nick Stuart’s sacrifice fly brought in the final run.
Daniels made a nice grab of a foul pop near the Fuquay dugout and then struck out two of the next three batters (the other, Smith, singled) to complete the victory for the Bengals.
Richmond Senior took advantage of a pair of errors in the late innings to score twice and take the victory in the first game of the series.
The Bengals took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth when Burt walked, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice and scored on a hit by Yarbrough. Two batters later, Yarbrough crossed the plate when Bissette reached on a dropped third strike.
Fuquay’s first misplay – a dropped throw on what was sure to be a double play ball – set the stage for a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch that made it 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth, Smith led off with a double for the Raiders and scored on Bradley Brown’s single to tie the game. After an error, McLean singled in what proved to be the winning run.