Tarboro’s River Bandits earned a spot in Saturday’s Carolina Virginia Collegiate League Championship before a rowdy Municipal Stadium crowd Friday night, taking a hard-fought, 4-3 win over defending league champion and top-seed Wake Forest.
Wake Forest plays the Carolina Pirates in elimination Game Seven at 2 p.m. today with the winner facing the River Bandits in Game Eight for the championship.
Tarboro native Trey Jernigan (UNC-Asheville) pitched 4⅓ strong innings before handing the ball over to reliever Troy Britts (Central Florida) with runners on second and third with one out and one run in what had become a tie game at 1-1.
“I hadn’t played on this field since middle school,” Jernigan said after the game. “I just wanted to go out there and represent my team and Tarboro and do the best I could. I kinda ran out of gas there at the end, but knew we were ready (to take the win).”
River Bandits Head Coach Brandon Matthews wasted no time in bringing in Britts.
“I didn’t worry about the runners,” Britts said. “I knew I had good guy (in the field) behind me, so I just went after the batters.”
Jernigan and Britts each recorded six strikeouts.
Britts struck out both batters he faced to quell the potential Twins rally to end the fifth.
In the sixth, the Bandits offense got Britts a pair of insurance runs.
Matthew Mangum (Glenville State) opened with a walk and then stole second before Thomas Fox (Bridgewater) looped a single into right field to send Mangum to third.
Kasey Caras (Messiah) then lifted a fly ball to left center that allowed Mangum to tag and score the go-ahead run from third.
Fox, who had stolen second, advanced to third on the throw home and scored on a single through short by Trevon Smith (Glenville State).
Leading 3-1, Britts took the mound in the bottom of the inning to face the Twins, who were the designated home team by virtue of the higher seed.
Britts struck out two of three batters in the sixth, then struck out two more in the seventh as he got Gunner Toltson (Mount Olive) to fly out to Brantley Cutler (Maryland-Eastern Shore) in deep right with two runners on base.
“I can’t say enough about what these guys did,” Matthews said. “Trey did everything we asked and has done everything we’ve asked all season to get ready for this moment.”
Matthews said that because of the COVID-19 shortened collegiate season, none of the pitchers came in with the number of innings that might normally have had.
“We had to work with them and bring them along and they were ready for the moment,” he said.
Matthews said Britts was a big pick-up for the Bandits and turned in what has come to be an expected performance.
“Troy did his thing and we put together some runs and got a hard-fought win,” he said.
Matthews called a rowdy Tarboro crowd the team’s “tenth man.”
“You hear about the sixth man in basketball? Well, this crowd tonight was our extra man ... they were great and we need them to turn out on Saturday and help us take care of business,” he said.
Tarboro managed six hits, with Fox managing two singles. Caras had a double and an RBI-producing SAC while Trevon Smith, Cutler and Carter Smith (Florida State) each had singles.
TODAY’S BRACKET — Fuquay-Varina and the Carolina Pirates meet in an elimination game at 2 p.m. The winner of that game will face the Bandits in the second game of the day, scheduled for 30 minutes after the completion of the first. A Tarboro win means the River Bandits would win the championship. Session tickets are $8 and available at the gate.