ROCKINGHAM — While most other baseball teams started the playoff portion of its season Tuesday, it was just another normal outing for West Johnston.
The Wildcats climbed their way into the playoffs over the final two weeks of the season, going 3-1 and upsetting Harnett Central — the only Greater Neuse River Conference team to win in the playoffs — and earning a second straight trip to Richmond County as the 4A playoffs officially began.
Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the contest that did in the Wildcats as Richmond County jumped out to a five-run lead in the first inning, then held on for a 6-3 win even as West seemed to improve its play each inning.
West Johnston outscored the Raiders 3-1 over the game’s final six innings, but saw its season end.
“I am very pleased with the way we competed,” said Wildcats coach Joey Worley. “We never gave up and we believed we could win right up to the end. Again, it was the walks and errors that hurt us.
“When you do that against a good team like Richmond Co., you are going to have to do some extraordinary things. If you take the first inning away, we won and that is something we are going to have to hang our hat on for the next couple of months.”
A walk and a hit batsman started the Raider rally in the first, which was extended by an infield error to help two additional runs scored.
But West was the Raiders’ equal or better from there. Dalton Mundy held Richmond to a single run over the final five innings. He struck out four and recorded 10 fly ball outs.
Down 5-0, West got on the board in the fifth with a one-out RBI single from Tony Mack, which scored Dalton List. But the Wildcats missed out on doing further damage with two runners on.
In the sixth, Sterling Atkinson and Tripp Atkinson singled, moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt and both scored on Dylan McLamb’s looping single to left field.
A pair of walks in the West seventh inning made things a little interesting but Raiders’ standout southpaw hurler Nick Bullard struck out two batters to end the game and West’s year.
Worley lamented the missed chances, which have often come up for what was a young Wildcat squad.
“We have stressed all year controlling what we need to control and finishing is something that we can control,” Worley said. “We lost three games this year by not finishing games and staying composed. This is going to be a big emphasis for us during the summer and off-season.”
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest