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3-A EAST FINALS: Vikings or Wildcats?

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D.H. Conley's Zach Nicholson, right, reaches for the ball as New Hanover's David MacCallum gets back to first base during Thursday's game at Conley.

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 25, 2019

After a dominating 10-0 win in Greenville on Thursday, D.H. Conley’s baseball team returns to Wilmington tonight to decide the 3-A East champion in Game 3 against top-seeded New Hanover.

It was in Wilmington on Tuesday when No. 2 Conley was no-hit by N.C. State recruit Blake Walston in a 5-0 defeat. Matthew Matthijs took the mound for the Vikings in that matchup, and while Walston will be unable to return to the mound for the deciding game of the three-game series, Matthijs is still an option for DHC coach Jason Mills.

“I think we were a little embarrassed Tuesday night. Walston just dominated us,” Mills said after Thursday’s six-inning win. “This bunch wants to win and that bunch wants to win. Saturday is going to be two teams who want to go at it. We have nine pitchers ready to go. I don’t know how many they have left, but that’s been our plan the entire year, to have enough guys with experience that we can rely on.”

Mills added that Pitt Community College commit and top relief pitcher Mitchell Hoffler has yet to take the mound in the series, thanks to complete games by Matthijs and Game 2 starter Robbie O’Neal.

Hoffler holds a 4-1 record with a 1.08 ERA and six saves in 14 appearances. He has given up just nine hits and eight runs, five of which were earned. He also has racked up 57 strikeouts.

Mills did not give a definitive answer as to who would start the series finale, saying it would be determined during Friday’s practice. But with the season on the line he could once again look to Matthijs, the standout freshman and North Carolina Tar Heel commit.

New Hanover has been recognized as one of the top teams in the country, at seventh in USA Today’s Super 25 rankings, first in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic poll and fourth in MaxPreps.com’s Xcellent 25 rankings. Conley sits seventh in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic poll.

Walston and Game 2 starter Alex Sniffen will both be out of the question to take the bump tonight for the Wildcats and head coach Richard Foy. Other options include two juniors, righties Hunter Hodges (5-0, 2.87 ERA) and Chase Hardy (0-0, 0.43 ERA), and senior Jac Croom (0-1, 2.35 ERA).

Hodges has the most experience of the trio. He has not pitched more than five innings in any of his starts. His longest start was March 8, when he threw five innings in a 12-1 win over Jacksonville. He gave up three hits and one run, striking out a season-high 11 batters.

The Vikings also defeated Jacksonville, winning 3-0 against the 7-seed Cardinals in the fourth round. Matthijs allowed just one hit in 6.1 innings, recording seven strikeouts on the night.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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