APEX — Baseball doesn’t always go as planned, but it did for the Garner Nationals on Friday night.
Garner ousted Apex 5-1 to clinch the best-of-five first-round playoff series three games to one. The Nationals open another best-of-five series this week against Raleigh Post 1, which ousted Rocky Mount in four games.
Garner got five strong innings on the mound from Chandler Jones, three more from Brighton Hudson and a 1-2-3 ninth inning from Jordan Bissette to limit Apex to just five hits in the game.
“I had in my mind five (innings for Jones), I had Hudson three and I was going to close with Bissette,” Garner manager Chris Cook said. “Very seldom in baseball does it work out the way you want it to but it did tonight.”
The Nationals led just 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning before finally getting to Apex starter Andrew Wantz. Through six innings of work, Wantz had allowed just five base runners until opening the seventh with a walk and a pair of singles that plated a run on an RBI hit from Tripp Atkinson.
“Second game in a row against Garner because (Wantz) pitched on Sunday (a 6-0 Garner win in game one of the series). Both times he’s pitched well enough to win,” Apex manager Tim Harrell said. “We just didn’t give him enough hits. We didn’t support him.”
After Matt Swarts-Vega took over for Wantz, Nick Yarbrough delivered the knockout blow with a two-run double to the centerfield wall and a 5-1 lead.
“That’s kind of been us all year,” Cook said. “We had the big hit when we needed it.”
Garner took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first courtesy of hits from three of the first four batters, including an RBI single from Lucas Scott and another run coming on a balk. But Wantz settled in nicely thereafter, retiring 14 of the next 16 batters into the seventh and striking out five along the way.
But Jones did his part for the Nationals, allowing just one runner to reach second base until there were two outs in the fifth. It was then that Jordan Duncan stroked a double to left, stole third and scored on a wild pitch for Apex’s only run of the game.
“I could’ve been tempted to send (Jones) back out there (for the sixth inning) up 2-1,” Cook said.
Instead, Cook stuck to his plan and Hudson came on to deliver three hitless innings before giving way to Bissette.
Yarbrough finished with two hits, two RBI’s and two steals for the Nationals while Scott totaled two hits, a run and an RBI. The fourth through seventh hitters in Garner’s lineup – Scott, Atkinson, Nick Stuart and Yarbrough – went a combined 6-for-15 with four runs driven in.
Wantz was just as effective at the plate as he was from the mound, going 2-for-3 with a double in Apex’s final game of the season.
“I think we had a good enough team, we just couldn’t put it together when it counted,” Harrell said. “But they had a great time.”