CARY — Green Hope baseball wrapped up its sixth conference championship in school history on Thursday.
On Friday, the team showed it’s not content with just that accomplishment.
The Falcons used a big fourth inning to down visiting Apex 9-0.
Green Hope (20-2, 12-1) has one game left next week to equal its best regular-season record in school history set in 2003.
“It means a lot. It’s something we were shooting for at the beginning of the season,” said Green Hope senior shortstop Stephen Pitarra, an N.C. State recruit.
Ask any Green Hope player why this year’s team is doing so well, and they’ll let you know – pitching and defense.
The Falcons made no errors against Apex (10-10, 7-5) and allowed just two hits. Matt Duckworth (two strikeouts, two walks) started the game and got the win, while Chris Joyner (four strikeouts in two innings) and Eric Gilbert (one inning, no hits or walks) came in relief.
Green Hope took a 3-0 lead after three innings on a RBI groundout by Chris Tutwiler, an RBI single by Pitarra and a bases-loaded walk to Troy Maslowski.
But another factor that the players may have overlooked when explaining this year’s success is the top-to-bottom strength of the lineup.
In a game-changing bottom of the fourth, 12 batters came to bat for Green Hope and six runs crossed the plate. The scoring plays included: a two-RBI single by Thomas Yoder, a bases-loaded catcher’s interference call, a two-RBI single by Maslowski and a bases-loaded walk to Austen Jones.
“We’re trying to figure out what the bottom of our lineup is. We’ve been giving a lot of different people chances,” Green Hope coach Mike Miragliuolo said. “Everybody battled today. We did what we wanted. Every one of our players but one got to bat. ... It was exactly what we wanted today.”
After the game, Apex found itself tied for third in the conference and needing just one win in its final two games to assure a playoff spot.
“We had a tough week but the bottom line is this – we’re still in the driver’s seat, we still control our own destiny,” Apex coach Mike Valder said. “We just have to grind a little bit more than we have, play with a little more enthusiasm.”
Apex lost all three games during the week and didn’t score a run, though one took just one inning to complete. On Thursday, the Cougars picked up their game tied with Panther Creek in the 11th inning.
Panther Creek ended it in the bottom half of the 11th and walked off to a 3-2 win.
“We gotta find a way to dig deep,” Valder said. “We’ve got to find our offense in general. We’ve struggled all year to put runs on the board. We’ve had a good job on the mound, and defensively we’re solid, but if you’re not scoring runs it doesn’t take much to put a lot of pressure on your defense and pitching.”
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps