Raider nine ready for Eastern Finals

Dylan Hardison pitching in a Raider playoff win last week. Hardison struck out 17 batters in his last outing.

Midway’s Trey Wood at bat in a game at Wallace-Rose Hill earlier this year. Wood and the Raider bats have picked up the pace of late, leading them into the Eastern Finals.

MHS finds themselves in a familiar place this week; the Eastern Championship of the NCHSAA 2A State Playoffs. Midway, fresh off an 8-5 win over Fairmont in round 4, is set to take on South Granville (21-2) in a 3-game series, starting on Wednesday.

The Raiders are the top overall seed in the East, and South Granville is right behind them at the two spot. Midway is sporting a 22-2 record, and have been riding great pitching all year. But so has South Granville. Only recently, the Raiders have began to swing the bat at a much higher level, but so have the Vikings.

The teams have eerily similar stats entering the series. The Raiders will take something into the Eastern Finals that the Vikings will not however, and that is experience.

This is the third consecutive time that MHS has reached the Eastern Championship. The 2013 campaign featured a series win over Voyager Academy before falling short to South Stanley in the State Championship. The Raiders defeated North Lenoir in the series last year before going on to win the whole thing in Greensboro over Bunker Hill.

Midway has many experienced players on this team that will play huge roles in the upcoming series. Lefty aces Matt Barefoot and Dylan Hardison have been hard to hit all season, and Senior righty Ryan Lee has had a good season as well. Behind the plate, Kyle Hawley is as good as they come. Midway has had many other players step up this season in ways that many wouldn’t expect.

Trey Wood, a former back-up third baseman has now transformed into a stout defenseman in leftfield. He is also hitting the ball well in the 5-spot in the lineup. Drake Strickland and Jake Clark have both stepped up offensively in the past weeks, which is a bonus to the Raiders. These two have been huge for Midway in the middle-infield this season as well.

Landon Dorman and Dustin Holland have shared time at first base and each made good contributions to the team. Cameron Godwin, a former infielder has made a nice transition into playing right-field. Godwin has time and time again made big-time catches on the run for MHS in close games.

Tyler Pope, the Raider third baseman has also stepped his game up. Pope was a starter on last year’s State Championship team, and along with Barefoot, Lee, Hawley and Hardison, has adjusted to play at an even higher level this season.

Sophomore Wesley Johnson has really provided a spark for the offense as well, playing DH.

Midway’s head coach, Jason Fussell expressed how big it was for his team to be back in the Eastern Championship for a third straight year. He said that it was not only good for the players, but a big thing for so many people surrounding Midway. “This is great not only for the players and their parents and the school, but it is big for the community,” he said. “We are so excited for the opportunity, and our guys know that it’s going to be a bigtime challenge again. South Granville is a great team with two really good pitchers, and we will need to play a couple of games like we did against Fairmont to be advancing.” Midway’s win over Fairmont in round 4 was the best performance of the year for the Raiders according to their head coach.

Obviously pitching will be big for Midway in the upcoming series, but aggressiveness at the dish will be huge for the Raiders as well. “We have been stressing to the fellas that they need to be aggressive when they are at the plate. We have been doing a better job of that, and that is something we’ll stress entering the series this week,” he said.

Midway won’t approach this series any differently and will take things “one game at a time,” per Coach Fussell. “We have been before,” he finished.

Game one is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Midway. Game two is slated for Thursday at South Granville at the same time. If necessary, game three will be back at Midway on Friday at 7 p.m. as well. For game updates and more information on MHS baseball, follow Adam Capps on Twitter @ac4birdie.