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There are no easy roads forward from here.
By the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs, no side doors exist for advancement. Only 16 teams remain in the running for a state championship. In the case of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association ranks, there’s only one more round to go before a championship opportunity.
Thus, as the spring sports season enters its final stretch, six teams from The Wilson Times readership area remain in contention across baseball, softball and girls soccer.
In the NCHSAA 3-A baseball bracket, both Hunt and Fike remain in contention, while both the North Johnston High baseball and softball teams have reached the third round of the 2-A bracket. Greenfield has a pair of semifinalists in the NCISAA 1-A ranks, with baseball and girls soccer a single step away from playing on the final day of the season. All six teams will be in action in some form Tuesday, with Fike baseball, Greenfield baseball and North Johnston softball all playing at home.
For the second straight year, the Golden Demons are playing in the third round, and with one more win, will secure their deepest advancement in six seasons under head coach Buck Edmundson. Fike (21-1), the No. 3 seed, will host No. 6 Southern Lee (16-5) at 7 p.m. on Gilbert Ferrell Field.
With a rested pitching staff at its disposal following three days off, the Demons have had a pair of comfortable wins to open the postseason, defeating No. 30 Cape Fear 9-1 and Big East rival, No. 19 Rocky Mount, 8-2.
Should the Demons move on, they will either host No. 7 Jacksonville or visit No. 2 D.H. Conley in the fourth round.
Hunt has reached the third round for the first time since 2014 and prepares for a daunting road assignment at No. 4 Fayetteville Terry Sanford. The Warriors (18-5), as the No. 12 seed, have eked out a pair of one-run outcomes in the first two rounds, beating South Johnston 1-0 before getting past Cleveland 5-4 in eight innings on a Gavin Huff walk-off single.
While Hunt plans to deploy junior Tyson Bass against Terry Sanford (23-2), the Bulldogs are expected to counter with southpaw Davidjohn Herz, who has signed with North Carolina.
Game time is 7 p.m., with the winner to get the survivor of No. 1 Wilmington New Hanover and No. 8 Southeast Guilford.
While current minor leaguers Isaiah White and Dwanya Williams-Sutton aren’t walking through the door for Greenfield, the Knights are back in a NCISAA 1-A semifinal for the first time since 2015 — when the duo helped plow the way to a state title.
This time, Greenfield (14-6), the No. 2 seed, has been powered by its pitching entering Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against No. 6 Albemarle School (7-9) in Fleming Stadium. Sophomore Nathan Woodard, by way of North Johnston, has been a shutdown arm for the Knights, compiling a 7-1 record with a 0.64 earned run average. Woodard has 115 strikeouts to 26 walks.
A win would send Greenfield into the championship series at top seed Kerr-Vance Academy or home against No. 5 Lawrence Academy.
North Johnston has taken the No. 12 seed in the 2-A East and turned it into a third-round appearance. The Panthers (22-3), coming off wins over Eastern Plains Conference foe North Pitt in the opening round and Currituck in round two, hit the road to face former conference opponent Washington, the No. 4 seed. A win by North Johnston would send it into the fourth round to host No. 16 East Bladen or visit No. 9 seed North Carolina School of Science and Math.
Is a fourth-round matchup between North Johnston and defending 2-A champion South Granville in the works?
Should both teams win third-round encounters, the rematch of last year’s East regional final will come to reality. But to get there, North Johnston (19-5), the No. 3 seed, must outlast No. 6 Currituck County in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. contest from Kenly.
The Panthers knocked off No. 30 Kill Devil Hills First Flight 15-2 in the first round before blanking No. 14 Bertie 4-0 in the second round. However, head coach Chris Batten cautioned his group after the Bertie win that it would need to hit the ball better to survive in the second week of the postseason and beyond.
A fourth-round contest in Creedmoor against No. 2 South Granville or a home game versus No. 7 Whiteville would await in the next round.
In two years at Greenfield, Eric Nguyen has directed the boys team to the NCISAA 1-A championship match. Now, he’s one step away from reprising the feat with the Lady Knights. But it will be a big step to take, as Greenfield (12-7), the No. 4 seed, heads to Henderson to battle the top seed in Kerr Vance Academy (11-2). It will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
Seventh grader Serenity McNair and junior Kaelyn Wall lead the Greenfield attack with 29 and 15 goals, respectively.
The championship match, set for Saturday at Fayetteville Academy, will pit the winner of this contest against the winner of No. 2 The Burlington School and No. 3 Neuse Christian.