ROCKINGHAM — It wasn’t an exciting way to win, but the Richmond Senior baseball team will take it.
Ethan Baucom drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of eighth inning to force home Mike Rush with the winning run in a 2-1 victory over Millbrook in eight innings in the decisive Game 3 of the 4A East Region final series.
“It’s just as good as hitting a grand slam to win,” Baucom said. “I knew he (Gunner Deal) had thrown well over 100 pitches the other night so I knew his arm had to be some what sore. I was 3-for-3 against him so I knew he wasn’t going to throw me anything good. I had to be ready and I knew I wasn’t going to strike out.”
Deal missed the strike zone with his first pitch before dropping a curve in for a called strike.
“I was ready for a first pitch fastball if it was close,” Baucom said. “I was ready to hit it to the outfield.”
Baucom never had to take the bat off his shoulders as Deal was unable to deliver a strike over his next three pitches, allowing Richmond to walk into the state finals series for the first time since 2000. Apex swept Richmond for the championship that season.
When Rush stomped on home plate, it seemingly ended three years of frustration for the Raiders. In their previous two attempts to advance to the state championship series, they lost in Game 3 to Middle Creek in 2012 and Fuquay-Varina last season.
Before Rush could score the winning run, he had to battle his way on base leading off the eighth. Rush was facing a 1-2 count against Millbrook starter Chris Scott when he beat out an infield single.
“It was a fastball middle in,” Rush said of the pitch. “I was struggling all game and he thought he would come after me.”
Earlier in the game, Richmond coach Ricky Young pulled Rush for a pinch hitter with two outs in the fifth and a runner on second. Young said he told Rush he still had confidence in him and expected him to bounce back when given another opportunity.
“I told him I have 100 percent faith in you,” Young said. “It was just like what happened at Rose when he singled to get us going. It’s a testament to how the team has been all year.”
Following Rush’s single, Scott struck out Nic Bullard for the first out of the inning. After that Scott was unable to record an out — walking Bradley Brown and hitting James Buie with a pitch — before being pulled in favor for Deal with the bases loaded.
Buie was the beneficiary of Rush’s game-winning run. Buie allowed four hits, walking two and striking out four in the complete-game victory. It was Buie’s first start on the mound since picking up the win against Scotland on May 1. His only other pitching appearance came in relief against Conley in the second round of the playoffs. He threw 2/3 of an inning to close the door on a 6-2 win.
“It had been a while,” Buie said. “All my pitches were working. I was working in the bullpen on hitting my spots and keeping the ball down.”
The only run Buie surrendered to the Wildcats was a result of two errors in the sixth that tied the game at 1. Zach Abdou, running for Connor McKenney who reached on an error, scored on a botched pickoff play at second with the bases loaded.
An inning later, Millbrook threatened to take the lead after Spencer Williams doubled off the fence in left. Pinch runner Logan Ross was picked off second on a trick play by Richmond. It was the second time in the playoffs the play worked for the Raiders against the opposition. The first time was in the third round win over South Central.
“We had the perfect situation again,” Young said. “It’s hard to get it to work one time, let alone twice in the same (playoff) run. It was great acting by the kids on the play.”
Richmond will face West Forsyth for the 4A title in a best of three series beginning Friday. Young said there is a conference call scheduled for Tuesday to determine the site.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.