ROCKINGHAM — For the first time five years, the Richmond Senior baseball team is still alive heading into the third round of the 4A state playoffs.
In three of the last four years, Richmond was eliminated in the second round, the last two times in shutout losses. The 2007 squad reached the sectionals before falling to Ashley 5-2.
This season, the Raiders have been the ones tossing goose eggs on the scoreboard. Richmond blanked Jack Britt 4-0 in its postseason opener behind a three-hit performance by Ryan Mercer. Nic Bullard topped Mercer’s performance against Hoggard in the second round, with a one-hitter in the 8-0 win.
Now a matchup with New Bern, the No. 1 seed from the Mideastern Conference, awaits the Raiders.
“The goal of the program from day one of practice is to win a state championship,” Richmond coach Ricky Young said. “When the season is over we will be glad whatever happens because we had a great year.”
Richmond is one of five schools which has not allowed a run in the playoffs and the only one on the 4A level.
“We have pride in our pitching and our defense,” Young said. “Coming into the playoffs, Ryan and Nic had ERAs under 1.00. I don’t expect them to go out and throw shutouts every night, but if they do, it certainly makes winning a lot easier.
“We have to score some runs early because we can’t expect them to shutout teams as we get deeper in the playoffs.”
Young is slated to tap Mercer for the start tonight against New Bern. The Bears will counter with Whitman Barnes. The junior lefthander recently committed to attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Barnes earned the victory in New Bern’s opening-round 8-4 win over Smithfield-Selma. Barnes went five innings, allowing six hits, two earned runs, while striking out six. In addition, Barnes smashed the go-ahead two-run home run against the Spartans.
“Pitching is a great equalizer in baseball,” New Bern coach Gary Smith told the Sun Journal. “They have great arms and we do too. We just are going to have to make sure that we keep getting quality at-bats, work the count and look for certain pitches and not miss them.”
The Bears (21-5) also used the long ball to slide past Cape Fear 6-3 in the second round. Center fielder Josh Taylor connected on a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.
Smith knows at this time of year, a win is a win, no matter how it comes.
“Hey, if we have to win that way, then so be it,” Smith said after the Cape Fear win. “We feel like our lineup and quality hitting is a big advantage for us and tonight, Josh came up big with the homer.”
Young thinks the Bears are a mirror image of the Raiders, except with a little more power in their lineup.
“They have more more seniors than we do and they have more experience,” Young said. “I know they’re going to be aggressive on the bases, they aren’t going to sit back and wait on the three-run homer.”
The game with the Raiders and the Bears is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Boykin Field.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com