In front a raucous and packed Friday night crowd, traditional rivals Millbrook and Leesville dueled pitch by pitch, hit by hit for a spot in next week’s 4A East Finals.
Leesville, riding a 16-game winning streak, had routed their cross-town foes twice already this spring. But Millbrook pitcher Alex Royalty had other plans, striking out 10 and allowing just two runs as the visiting Wildcats held off the host Pride 4-2 to advance.
A three-run third inning proved to be the difference for Millbrook (18-9). Back-to-back doubles by Scott McKeon and Tyler Eckert drove a trio of runners across the plate to put Millbrook ahead 4-0 at the time.
Leesville (17-9) responded in the bottom of the third with their only two runs of the contest. After Tyler Barnes was thrown out at home, a Dillon Cooper single scored Andrew Papp and then Tyler Conley scored on a wild pitch.
The Pride had a chance to rally in the fifth inning, loading the bases with only one out. Cooper dinked a weak hopper back to the pitcher, however, and the double play at home and first ended the inning.
Royalty, a UNC-Wilmington baseball commit, shut down Leesville for the final two innings to secure the victory.
“We played well, we played hard, we were battling right to the end and that’s all I can ask these guys to do,” said Leesville coach Guy Civitello. “[Royalty throws] round the strike zone and he keeps you off-balance. We knew coming into today he was going to be tough, but we had opportunities, we just didn’t get it done when we needed to.”
Leesville’s Ryan Sande, a Radford commit, pitched five innings with seven strikeouts and nine hits allowed.
“[Millbrook] did a really good job putting the ball in play,” he said, noting that he was nevertheless largely pleased with his performance on the mound.
Spectators packed every inch of space for the high-stakes contest, which was full of intensity on and off the diamond throughout.
Fans packed every seat of the stands, every bit of space on the temporary bleachers brought in for the game and a plethora of lawn chairs in the space inbetween. Others resorted to simply standing anywhere they could get a view — including a group standing on a picnic table and several rolled up tarps well down the first base foul line.
After beginning the season 1-8, Leesville’s senior-loaded team rallied together to make a run for the ages. An 11-3 conference record proved good enough to win the 2015 Cap-8 championship, and the team’s streak continued through three rounds of the playoffs before ending Friday night.
“We had a lot of expectations coming into the year and didn’t have the start we would’ve liked, but we had some great senior leadership that kept it together and we made a run,” said Civitello.
“I’m telling these guys it hurts right now but there’s a lot to be proud of. It was definitely a roller coaster but [it was] one I wouldn’t trade for anything.”