ROCKINGHAM — It’s down to the final two teams.
Richmond Senior vs. West Forsyth in a best-of-3 matchup for the 4A baseball state championship. The series will start at 5 p.m. today at UNC Greensboro Stadium. Game 2 is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Raiders are no strangers to winning baseball titles, having captured three 4A crowns (1974, 1976 and 1983) and a 3A championship (1973). Richmond’s last appearance in the title series came in 2000, when it was swept by Apex.
The Titans are making their second bid for the state championship. West Forsyth fell in the 2002 title series to Fuquay-Varina in a swept. Ironically, current West Forsyth coach Brad Bullard was the starting center fielder on the 2002 team.
Ricky Young is making his second trip to the title series as a coach, his first with Richmond. Young’s West Columbus squad was defeated by Chatham Central in three games for the 1A state title in 2006.
“The biggest thing about that series was we got rained out in the first game. We had to come back the next day and finish it and play Game 2,” Young said. “A lot of things got changed because of that.”
Young hopes he won’t have to juggle his pitching staff around because of weather problems this time around. Richmond defeated Millbrook in three games in the East Region final, winning the last two games behind the strong pitching performances of seniors Nic Bullard and James Buie.
Bullard, a UNC Pembroke signee, tossed a three-hit shutout and struck out 10 to out-duel Alex Royalty in a 2-0 victory in Game 2. Buie, who will attend Wingate in the fall, followed Bullard’s gem with one of his own. Making his first start since the end of the regular season, Buie pitched an eight-inning complete game, allowing an unearned run on four hits in the 2-1 win.
Bullard is 9-2 this season with a save and a 1.85 ERA. He has 90 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings. Buie is 4-1 with 1.02 ERA and has 46 strikeouts in 41 innings. Cody Leviner, the other starting pitcher, is 9-2 with a 1.61 ERA and has struck out 68 in 74 innings.
“We’re confident with all three of our pitchers,” Young said. “They all have pitched well and all three give us a chance to win.”
Earlier this week, Brad Bullard said Richmond and West Forsyth are mirror images of each other — relying on strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.
Young agreed saying West Forsyth pitchers Michael Bates and Travis Holden will be tough to handle, but he won’t deviate from his game plan of putting pressure on the opposition by bunting and stealing.
“They have two good pitchers, both are Division I signees,” Young said. “We aren’t going to change what we do. We know they are a good team. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be playing for the championship.”
In the postseason, the Titans are averaging 3.8 runs, down from the 6.1 they scored in the regular season. Bates and Holden have both recorded shutouts in the playoffs as well as combining to blank R.J. Reynolds in the fourth round.
One of the keys to Richmond advancing to the title series was keeping Millbrook’s tablesetters off the bases. In the 6-5 loss in Game 1, Millbrook’s top two hitters reached base in all eight at-bats. In the final two contests, the duo of Brian Miller and Chris Scott reached six times in 14 plate appearances.
Young said his pitchers understand they have to minimize the opportunities West Forsyth’s run-producers like Alex Vanderstok have with runners on base.
“That’s always the key,” Young said. “We have to keep their runners off the bases in front of their big hitters. It’s the same as every game, we can’t walk batters.”
The Raiders have outscored the opposition 33-19 in their seven playoff contests. The team is averaging 4.7 runs per game in their run to the championship series, down from the 6.3 they scored in the regular season.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.