Mallard Creek baseball crossed conference championship off its list earlier in the year and on Wednesday took the next step toward their ultimate goal: winning a state title.
The Mavericks, now 22-6, had revenge on their mind as they took down division rivals Hopewell 11-5 and advanced to the second round of the state championship.
The Titans represented the only loss for Mallard Creek over the last 10 games. Hopewell dominated with a 13-1 win on May 3. The two teams met again three days later in the conference tournament, a 5-4 Mavericks win.
This was the rubber game and the one that counted the most, and again, the offense was the catalyst in victory.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
On Wednesday, John Murray drove in four runs, but the strength all year is that the offense comes at teams in waves and opponents cannot key on one player.
"We have really strong batters one through nine in the lineup," said Mikal Hill. "With the guys hitting around me, (opponents) are going to have to take their chances with all of us."
Murray is hitting .314 on the year and has driven in 23 runs. Blaine Lewis hits .486 and has a team high four home runs and 35 RBIs. Brandon Wilkerson hits .493, has 34 RBIs and has three homers. Hill has a .472 average and has three home runs and a team-leading 14 stolen bases. Kirk Morgan is batting .457.
"We have great team speed that makes a walk or a fielding error by the other team hurt more because of the threat of stealing a base," said head coach Shawn McGeorge.
"Offensively, we just like to keep pressure on the other team and force them to make good, clean plays. We definitely capitalize on anything they give us."
Their offensive balance makes it hard for opposing teams to prepare for them.
On the mound, eight pitchers have started at least one game and have at least one win.
Tyler McCarthy, who is 6-1 on the year and has a 2.20 ERA, and Michael Boles, 6-3 and 4.04, anchor the staff. Morgan has started three games and is 3-2 with a team-high three saves and a 3.60 ERA.
"Michael and Tyler have formed a great friendly rivalry with one another. They push each other to do better, they study pitching charts with each other and they want the other to succeed," McGeorge said.
With such a deep team and talent at many positions on offense and defense, the Mavericks are going to be tough to beat this postseason.
Mallard Creek played (Arden) T.C. Robertson in the district round on Friday. The Rams came into the game with a 20-4 record and were ranked 10th in the state. They defeated Weddington 5-0 in their second round game. The Mavericks entered ranked 36th.
"In the past we have flirted with the appropriate times for being loose and being serious," McGeorge said. "Down the stretch this year our players have found the proper balance of keeping things loose but still putting in the work.
"Not only is this the most talented team I have ever been around, but they make it fun to spend the amount of time together that we do."