CLEMMONS — When the 4A baseball championship series starts Friday, Richmond Senior and West Forsyth might think they are looking in a mirror.
At least that is what West Forsyth coach Brad Bullard believes.
Bullard had the opportunity to scout Richmond last week in the second game of its East Region final series with Millbrook after West Forsyth swept Providence in the West Region.
“We’re a lot like Richmond,” Bullard said. “I saw Nic Bullard pitch and I was very impressed with him. We both have good pitching, play good defense and get the big hits at the right time.”
Bullard believes the switch to the BBCOR bats has prompted coaches to switch to a small-ball mentality. No longer can teams sit back and wait for a three-run home run, they are now forced to generate runs.
“You aren’t going to hit quite as many home runs as before,” Bullard said. “Everyone plays small ball. You have to bunt, steal and hit-and-run.”
The Titans are 27-5 on the season and finished tied for first in the Central Piedmont Conference with R.J. Reynolds. West Forsyth lost to Reagan, which finished fourth in the regular season, in the conference tournament championship game. The loss dropped West Forsyth to the No. 3 seed out of the CPC when the playoff brackets were revealed.
This forced West Forsyth to become road warriors to advance to the state championship series for the second time in school history. Its only home game during the playoffs came against Providence in Game 2 of the West Region finals, a 2-1 victory in nine innings.
Bullard credits his senior-laden team for being able to overcome that obstacle. The Titans will start seven seniors in the field and their top two pitchers are also 12th-graders.
The only underclassman in the starting lineup is third baseman Alex Vanderstok. The sophomore is hitting .333 with eight home runs and 24 runs batted in.
But don’t think West Forsyth is a one-man team.
Starting shortstop Tripp Shelton has signed with UNC Greensboro, along with pitcher Michael Bates. Travis Holden, the Titans’ other starting pitcher, was set to attend UNC Asheville, but a coaching change as him reconsidering his options. First baseman Matt Pennington signed with Concord University in West Virginia. Two others — Aaron Stamper and T.J. Goco — will be going to junior college.
Another player Nick Boyles, who signed with UNC Asheville, was expected to be one of the top players for Bullard, but has missed the season because of an injury.
“He’s been hitting the ball very well,” Bullard said about Vanderstok. “But throughout the playoffs we have had a different guy stepping up each game.”
West Forsyth has outscored the opposition 23-8 in the postseason. Five of the runs it allowed came in a 10-5 victory over Providence in the first game of the West Region final series.
West Forsyth hurled three straight shutouts in the postseason, downing Independence 3-0, Reagan 3-0 and R.J. Reynolds 2-0. Holden picked up the shutout against Independence, while Bates blanked Reagan. The pair combined to shutdown Reynolds as Holden pitched the first 6 1/3 and Bates earned the save by getting the final two outs.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.