ROCKINGHAM — One team will stay at home, the other will venture north on U.S. Highway 1.
The Richmond Senior baseball team advanced to the second round of the 4A state playoffs behind a three-hit pitching performance by Ryan Mercer against Jack Britt in a 4-0 victory Friday night. It was the seventh shutout for the Raiders’ staff this season.
The Buccaneers managed to hit two balls to the outfield against the senior right-hander and struck out seven times. Mercer faced just two batters over the minimum as catcher Chalin Williamson gunned down two runners trying to steal.
The Raiders (21-6) will face Hoggard at 6 p.m. today at Raider Field. The Vikings moved into the second round after upsetting West Johnston 8-4. Hoggard is 14-9 on the year and finished fourth in the Mideastern Conference.
“They’re in a extremely tough conference, so their record doesn’t indicate how good they are,” Richmond coach Ricky Young said. “They’re going to be tough, we have to play well to win.”
Before their contest with West Johnston, the Vikings had four starters hitting over .300, led by Bryan Sammons. The junior first baseman/pitcher was hitting a team-high .311, with six doubles and 18 RBIs. Junior infielder Joseph O’Donnell had a .306 batting average and was tied for the team lead with 17 runs scored. As a team, Hoggard was hitting .263, with 30 doubles, two triples and two home runs.
“To me, stats are all relative,” Young said. “They see good pitching all year and you have to take into consideration the conference they’re in. The Mideastern Conference from first to last was separated by three games. It was that tight.”
Young will call on sophomore left-hander Nic Bullard to try and contain Hoggard’s offense. Bullard will enter the game with a 5-2 record and a 0.78 earned run average. In 54 innings, Bullard has struck out 79 and the opposition is hitting .169 against him.
“I’m confident in him and I think he will do a good job,” Young said of Bullard who will be making his first postseason start. “He has to hit his spots and not make too many mistakes. As you go further in the playoffs, the least amount of mistakes you can make. I think he will be fine and will give us a chance to win.”
The winner of tonight’s contest will play either New Bern or Cape Fear. The Bears are the No. 1 team out of the Mideastern Conference, while the Colts grabbed the second seed from the Mid-South.
While the baseball team will take the diamond in the friendly confines of Raider Field, the softball team will travel to Garner for its second round clash.
The Raiders (16-9) knocked out Cape Fear 2-1 in their opening game of the postseason. Sophomore first baseman Jessica Steen drove in Chelsea Davis with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh despite playing the game with a dislocated index finger on her right hand.
Richmond pitcher Casey Snead allowed two hits and struck out 10 in the victory.
The Trojans are 18-2 overall and finished first in the Greater Neuse Conference with a 12-2 mark. Entering the playoffs, Garner had a team batting average of .333 and four players were hitting .356 or better. Sophomore second baseman Kelsey Bryan was hitting a team-high .463, followed by senior first baseman Amber Kirkland’s .448 average. Junior shortstop Madison Stewart had a .414 batting average and sophomore pitcher Lauren Marbrey was hitting .356.
“I look at stats just to see who the top hitters are,” Richmond softball coach Wendy Wallace said. “You don’t know the caliber of teams they are playing. Casey has to do a good job and we have to do what we have done all season. We can’t give good teams extra outs.”
On the hill, Marbrey had a 0.72 ERA before the postseason started with a .165 batting average against. In 116 innings, Marbrey had struck out 142. In 20 games, she had two no-hitters and two one-hitters.
“We have to hit the ball and score runs,” Wallace said. “The girls have been swinging the bats well in practice. We are excited to be going up there to play.”
The winner of the Laney-Jack Britt contests awaits the victor of the Raiders-Trojans matchup in the third round. Laney was the top seed out of the Mideastern, while Jack Britt earned the second seed out of the Mid-South.
Brown advances to state
BENSON — Xavier Brown was the only member of the Richmond Senior boys track team to qualify for the state meet.
Brown advanced in the 300-meter hurdles by finishing fourth in a time of 40.1 seconds.
The 4A state championship meet will be held Saturday at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org