ROCKINGHAM — For the third straight season, Richmond Senior is two wins away from advancing to the 4A state championship series.
In the previous two years, Richmond lost in the deciding Game 3 of the East Region final series. In 2012, Middle Creek took out Richmond 8-2 before going on to win the state title. Last season, Fuquay-Varina shutout Richmond 12-0 at Raider Field.
Now the Raiders hope the third time is the charm.
Richmond (21-6-1) will play host to Millbrook (19-8) 7 p.m. Tuesday in Game 1 of the East Region final series. Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Millbrook. If necessary, Game 3 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Raider Field.
Richmond coach Ricky Young believes his team’s experience in the postseason has been important in making its third straight deep run in the playoffs.
“It’s been a key in the second half of the season for us,” Young said. “As the games have become more important, we have sharpen our focus.”
The Raiders needed that focus in Friday’s come-from-behind win. Trailing 4-3 in the top of the seventh, Richmond exploded for five runs to pull out an 8-4 victory over J.H. Rose. Veteran players like Mike Rush, Nic Bullard, Bradley Brown, James Buie and Ethan Baucom keyed the game-winning rally. Bullard knocked home Rush with the tying run and Baucom connected on a three-run home run to put the Raiders ahead for good.
After the game Young talked how his team never quits and knows it takes 21 outs to win. He added his team had the confidence to go on the road and pull out the victory. Young believes that will carry over to the upcoming series.
“Right now we have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” Young said. “In our program can’t focus on who we are playing, but just what we need to do to win.”
Richmond has reeled off 11 straight victories since a loss at Lumberton. Millbrook, on the other hand, struggled coming into the playoffs, losing three of its final five games. But Young said the Wildcats are putting it together at the right time.
Millbrook took out Northern Durham in the opening round 7-4 before its pitching staff settled down. Millbrook eliminated Green Hope 4-2 and Apex 2-1 before blanking Panther Creek 5-0 Friday. Alex Royalty tossed the three-hit shutout, striking out nine Panther Creek batters. Gunner Deal had the complete-game victory against Apex.
“They have three good pitchers,” Young said. “They are playing good. They are a good program, they have to be or they wouldn’t be still playing at this point.”
In the West Region series, Providence (26-4) will have home-field advantage against West Forsyth (25-5). Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.