Braxton Coggins reluctantly strode from the hill at Doyle Field on Tuesday, a declining sun behind him, like his opponent.
The Yellow Jacket faithful clapped.
His mates cheered.
Somewhere, the ghost of Cy Young smiled.
Because over 6 2/3 innings, the sophomore was exceptional, using location and defensive help from a razor-sharp infield to ease Roanoke Rapids past mercurial West Craven, 7-3, in opening-round play of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A baseball playoffs.
And yes, the stellar performance left his coach impressed — if not amazed.
“He didn’t get to pitch a high school game last year (because of COVID-19),” RRHS skipper Mark Snead said of the righty, now 8-0 this spring. “No JV games were played, he didn’t get to play in our four games — so, him stepping up this year without any high school experience … he’s been a bulldog up on the mound.”
One with the smartest snarl, as it turned out on Tuesday, with win-or-go-home tension attached to every heave.
RRHS entered the postseason on fire, having scored 119 runs in 11 games, but struggled early against Eagle ace Nick Bruno, a crafty left-hander who dealt with movement and pace.
The Jackets (12-0) would eventually overcome his dealings, however, using a blend of patience and smarts to chase him after three frames.
“We didn’t get hits early on, but what we did do was work the count,” Snead said of his troupe’s collective eye. “We worked a lot of walks, we made him throw a lot of stressful pitches … then they had to go to No. 2 (Ricky Cooke), who was good. Then they had to go to No. 3 (Taylor Batten), who was good. You know, so, all three of those guys can really throw.”
Just not enough to sabotage the hosts for the duration, as evidenced by the last three innings, when the quartet of Austin Geary, Jon Lewis Temple, Matthew MacNichol and Drew Williams made contact enough to cross the game’s deciding runs.
West Craven finished its 2020-2021 campaign with a 9-5 overall record.
It was indeed a wild night across the 2A East Region, what with No. 1-seed McMichael falling to No. 16 North Pitt, 2-1, and the play of East Bladen, which got a trio of RBIs from Lefredrick Wooten en route to a 6-1 upset of undefeated Croatan.
All told, the upheaval had no direct bearing on RRHS, but could, if it finds a way to vanquish tradition-rich North Lenoir (12-3) on Thursday.
First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. in La Grange.