CARY - Two unlikely teams clinched their spot in the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League on Tuesday night at Cary Academy.
Cary Academy rallied to defeat Orange 5-4 in the day's first game and Fuquay-Varina's No. 2 team (last year's JV) held on to advance past Apex 4-3.
Cary Academy (14-3) is in its first year of competing in the CCSSL. Now, they're one of four teams left standing despite being a much smaller school than many other CCSSL teams (about 400 high school students).
"That's pretty darn good for little ol' Cary Academy. That's awesome," coach Ray Pope said. "A lot of times we don't get the talent that these guys do because they have like 2,000 kids at a school. But we play the hand that we're dealt. We develop players and my kids work hard and it shows out there."
The tide turned in the bottom of the sixth, as the Chargers put together three runs on a RBI single by Noah Greenblatt and a RBI double by Garret Williamson to take a 5-4 lead.
The Panthers got three different runners on in the seventh, but left two on base as Cary Academy shut the door.
"We had a great time. Our goal coming in was to make the playoffs," Orange coach Dean Dease said. "The Northwest division was really strong. I'm proud of them."
Orange was held scoreless over the last four innings.
In the Fuquay-Apex game, the Bengals got on the board first in the bottom of the fourth as catcher Brian Mitchell drove in a run from third to go up 1-0. Apex's Austin Debevec hit an RBI single to even the score in the top of the fifth, but again Apex left the bases loaded.
In all, Apex (14-5) left 11 men on base.
Then in the bottom of the fifth, Fuquay's Hunter Kemplin hit a three-run blast over the left field wall to go up 4-1. But Apex was not done.
"I said to the kids, if we're going to finish it, we're going to finish it by fighting," Apex coach Mike Valder said. "Overall, I'm proud of the effort we've put out throughout the summer. We definitely got better. We've got a better idea of where we stand from top-to-bottom."
Valder's team showed its fight in the top of the seventh, when Bengals starter Perry Gray was pulled from the game after giving up a leadoff single.
His replacement, D.J. Burt, walked the next two batters on nine pitches. Gray was inserted back into the game - which is legal in CCSSL competition.
Gray walked in a run, then hit the next Apex batter to bring in another. With the bases loaded and zero outs, Gray then got the next batter to ground into a 1-2 force out at home, where Mitchell then fired to third base to catch another Apex runner in a pickle for the second out.
The next Cougars batter grounded into the 6-3 put out to end the game.
"The kid pitched his butt off tonight," Fuquay No. 2 coach Neil Eichhorn said."
There was some confusion after the game about which teams will meet in Thursday's CCSSL semifinals down at Lee County High School in Sanford.
According to the CCSSL website, Cary Academy will play Southern Lee (who defeated Garner Tuesday night) while Fuquay's No. 2 team would play its No. 1 team (who also won Tuesday night).
But Eichhorn said he was under the impression that the only way one Fuquay team would square off against the other. But the idea of having his younger Bengals playing against the older ones at this stage excited him.
"That'd be fun," Eichhorn said.