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N.C. 4A Championships Fuquay-Varina vs. South Meck, 8 p.m.

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South Meck playing for baseball state title, coach Tuscan

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

South Mecklenburg baseball coach Jon Tuscan said his Sabres have given him a memorable ride through the 2013 N.C. 4A high school baseball playoffs.

The Sabres (25-7) will play in their first state final series in eight years Friday against Fuquay-Varina (25-3).

South Mecklenburg, which lost to Greenville Conley in the 2005 finals, will try to win its second state title at Zebulon’s Five County Stadium. Game 1 of the best-of-3 series is Friday at 8 p.m. Game 2 is Saturday at 2 p.m., with a third game, if needed, starting at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. on Saturday.

In 1989, the Sabres beat Wilson Hunt for the 4A championship, led by pitcher Mac White’s four-hit effort in a 9-2 win in the deciding Game 3.

Tuscan hopes for a similar result from the 2013 Sabres, who won their first conference tournament title in seven years earlier this month.

“It’s been something,” Tuscan said. “I know our guys are having fun with it and the whole school tends to be really excited. I know our guys loved seeing the stands just packed with students, people from the community. It’s been a really great experience for them, seeing so many people come out and support them. It’s something I know I won’t forget.”

Tuscan was diagnosed with testicular cancer in late March and the team has rallied around him and started a charity fund, JT20, in his honor and based off his jersey number. On the field, the Sabres have played inspired baseball for their coach, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment after surgery following his initial diagnosis.

Junior first baseman Harris Yett is batting .409 with six home runs. Senior catcher Logan Koch is batting .404. Sabres pitchers Austin Wynn (5-2, three saves), Earl Oliver (9-3, one save) and Max Bazin (10-1, two saves) are having strong years.

“It’s just one of those things,” Tuscan said, “where you start off talking about winning a conference championship and then a conference tournament championship and then making a deep run in the playoffs. We never said our goal was to get to a state championship. There’s lots of things that have to happen for that to come your way, and it doesn’t happen often. In the playoffs, we just said we wanted to play as long as they would let us play.”

The Sabres stormed through the early round of the playoffs, winning their first four playoff games by a combined 32-2 before getting into a grueling three-game series with Skyland Roberson in last week’s Western Regional championship series.

The Sabres won Game 1, 4-1, but needed a spectacular catch from Lawson McArthur to prevent a three-run home run in the fifth.

Roberson ended South’s 10-game win streak with a 6-4 win in Game 2, when Roberson hit four home runs. In Game 3, South trailed 4-1 in the fifth and rallied for a two-run lead.

In the top of the seventh, Roberson had runners on second and third with two outs. Roberson’s Josh McNair hit a ball down the third-base line and South’s Michael Smith made a great play to get it. Tuscan said he made an even better one to set his feet and throw. When Yett did a semi-split and raised the ball out of the dirt, the Sabres celebrated.

Tuscan felt a huge sense of relief.

“That was one of the coolest feelings,” he said. “That one moment, real quick, when it hasn’t sunk in yet. All the coaching staff kind of looked at each other. I just froze for a second. That was such a difficult play. I don’t know if you can have a better series than that, when every game comes down to the tying or winning run on base in the last inning. It’s great seeing our guys do that in the playoffs. We’re getting old in the dugout (as coaches), but they’re getting some kind of experience.”

Four of the Sabres are committed to play baseball at college: Koch, the senior catcher, is committed to South Carolina; senior pitcher Nate Barkey to Catawba Valley Community College; Yett, the junior first baseman, to N.C. State; and junior shortstop Brooks Kennedy to North Carolina.

South has six seniors among its 17-man roster and Tuscan said he feels really good about his team’s prospects for next season. But he said he feels really good about his team’s chances this weekend.

“Fuquay-Varina is a really good club,” he said. “We feel good about it and we’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing and not try to change anything, understanding what’s gotten us here is exactly what we need to keep doing.”

And that’s just enjoying the ride

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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