FOUR OAKS — South Johnston’s Colby Jones hit Jake Maddle with a pitch at the top of the sixth inning. Minutes later the Topsail shortstop would quickly return the favor, instead hitting the Trojans where it hurt: the scoreboard.
After five innings of solid pitching and strong fielding from both teams, momentum shifted to the visiting Pirates. Maddle capitalized on the free walk to first base before a passed ball led him to second, a wild pitch to third and a sacrifice bunt brought him home for the game’s first score.
That run served as a catalyst for Topsail, which would score an additional two runs at the top of the seventh to claim the 3A Eastern Regional Championship, 3-1, in the best-of-three series.
South Johnston answered as a Joey Matthews RBI single brought Brett Clifton home to tie the game at 1 at the bottom of the sixth with two outs. But that’s as close as the Trojans would get before giving up two unanswered runs in the final inning.
It was a “great atmosphere for high school baseball,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said. “You can’t ask for anything else.”
Despite South Johnston finishing as the 3A Eastern Region runner-up, Durham said the ballgame was “everything you could want in a regional championship game.”
Both coaches lauded the opposing team’s pitching. Topsail pitcher Trent Hansley threw 12 strikeouts in a complete game while Jones struck out three in 5 1/3 innings and only allowed one run.
“They’re an extremely well coached team,” Topsail coach Granville Gehris said. “It was a great ballgame to the end.”
The Trojans broke an 18-year drought, making it to the regional final for the first time since 1996.
“Breaking that is a great way for them to end their season,” Durham said. “This group in this dugout right here, I couldn’t ask anything more from them and what they’ve done.”
Topsail will play the winner of the Piedmont-Burns series, which Piedmont leads 1-0, to name a Class 3A state champion. The date and location of the first game of the championship series has not yet been determined.