Patriots rally to reach quarterfinals

By Jessie H. Nunery

Sports Editor

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As much as Faith Christian played a part in forgettable history Tuesday, the Patriots also made sure they added to a string of memorable playoffs moments.

Despite another error-filled contest that threatened to end its season, fifth-seeded Faith Christian scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to knock off No. 12 Greensboro Caldwell, 11-10, in the first round of the NCISAA 2-A state playoffs.

Braxton Varnell’s single to deep left field scored the winning run and advanced the Patriots to Friday’s second-round game at conference rival Kinston Parrott.

“We used up all of our nine lives (Tuesday), Faith Christian coach Greg Clifton said.

The Patriots rallied for a first-round playoffs victory for the third consecutive season.

Two years ago, the squad trailed Hickory by five runs entering the bottom of the seventh before scoring the winning run on a hit by pitch.

Last year, Faith Christian rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the bottom of the
seventh against Carolina Friends School, and it was Varnell’s grand slam that tied the game before the Patriots ultimatley 

Varnell and his teammates faced a 10-7 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday evening, but outlasted Caldwell’s relief corps that did not record an out in the final frame.

Greensboro Caldwell starting pitcher Clay Young threw 162 pitches, and the Catawba-bound right-hander walked the first two batters he faced in the seventh before finally being relieved.

“We kept telling each other, ‘Keep on working.’” Varnell said. “That was the only pitcher they had. We ended up getting him out of the ballgame.”

Christian Perry drew a walk to load the bases before Brandon Sanderford and Luke Mills followed with RBI singles to cut the deficit to 10-9.

Cody Manning drew another walk, this time with the bases loaded, to tie the game at 10, and Varnell continued his postseason dramatics with a long single that nearly went over the fence.

“It (was) unbelievable,” Varnell said. “I’m blessed.”

His teammates would agree.

Faith Christian committed six errors in the game, running its total to 16 miscues during the past three games. The prior two contests ended in defeats to Kinston Parrott Academy and Rocky Mount Academy, costing the Patriots a chance to win the EPIC title.

It almost cost them more in the playoffs.

Five of Greensboro Caldwell’s runs came directly from errant throws or sloppy fielding by Faith Christian.

“Six errors,” Clifton said shaking his head. “We’re very luck to win. I did not think we’d come out and do that again. It’s like hitting. It’s contagious. When somebody makes an error it seems to go around to all of them.”

Faith Christian trailed, 10-5, entering the bottom of the sixth inning, but it was that frame that shaped the remainder of the contest. Young had retired seven of eight batters before he gave up two hits, walked two batters and allowed a pair of runs to give the Patriots some hope.

Young’s accuracy diminished as his pitch count rose. High school arms are built to sustain only so much fatigue, and it was that factor that ultimately defined a sloppy defensive effort from Faith Christian.

“We should never have came close to winning that ballgame, but second chances came through and we won,” Varnell said.

Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or