Malik Fields could not have enjoyed a more relaxed start Tuesday: 10 up, 10 down.
Behind Fields' fast start, the Whale Branch Early College High School baseball team eliminated Cross from the Class 1-A District VIII playoffs with a 6-2 victory. A day after storms blew through Beaufort County and postponed the game, the Warriors notched their second win over the Trojans in the double-elimination format.
The opening stretch for the sophomore Fields included nine consecutive strikeouts.
"Fastball, fastball, fastball," said Fields, a sophomore who struck out 14. "...We knew we were better than them."
Now the hard part.
Whale Branch travels to Latta today for the district championship, the Warriors needing two victories to advance. Latta, the No. 2 team in Class 1-A, defeated Whale Branch 11-2 Saturday to send the Warriors to the loser's bracket.
The Warriors faced the same test a year ago, losing to Lamar in the district championship.
Latta threw two left-handers at Whale Branch on Saturday, keeping the Warriors off balance and picking them off when they did reach base.
Whale Branch coach Josh Brister said Latta had scouted his group well.
"We like to steal bases," he said. "That's what we're going to do."
Brister wanted to keep the pressure on Tuesday. The Warriors scored on two hit-and-runs during the first inning, and Nik Nederman came all the way around to score on a botched pickoff attempt the next inning.
"We try to do everything fast to complement the kids that we've got, the skill set we've got," Brister said.
Brothers Dee Delaney and Jay Delaney were each 2 for 3 Tuesday, each scoring twice. Eighth-grader Ryan Green was also 2 for 3, with two RBIs.
Dee, who started the first game against Latta, said Jay would start today. Brister said Fields' complete game left him with options.
Dee said the Warriors could play better than they did Saturday, that Latta played with solid fundamentals but was beatable.
"We need hits," he said.
The Trojans finally solved their issues at the plate Tuesday, long enough to string together consecutive hits and a pair of runs during the fourth inning. Malik Gooding drove in a run with a triple and scored on a wild pitch. The Cross dugout, silent much of the game, came alive, trying to rattle Fields.
He allowed only one hit the final 3 2-3 innings.
"They kind of riled him up a little bit," Brister said. "And he settled down. Our kids play like that. You rile them, they're going to rile you right back."
Cross 000 200 0 -- 2 3 3
Whale Branch 311 010 X -- 6 6 0
WP: Fields (3-1) 7 IP, 14 K, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB
LP: Jawan Washington 7 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
Top hitters: Cross -- Malik Gooding 1 for 3, 3B, RBI; Whale Branch -- Jay Delaney 2 for 3, 2B, RBI, 2 R; Dee Delaney 2 for 3, 2 R; Ryan Green 2 for 3, 2 RBIs, SB.