YORK -- The Class AAAA baseball playoffs don't start until later this month.
But Wednesday's Region 3-AAAA showdown between visiting Northwestern and York had the atmosphere of a postseason game.
The stands on both sides were full, the parking lot near the field was so crowded that the PA announcer had to ask the driver of a blue pickup to please move it because he had someone blocked in, and the fans not sitting in fabric chairs behind the backstop were hanging on the fences down both lines.
And naturally, fans of both teams took their verbal shots at the umpires.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
It was the battle for first place between schools separated by seven miles of S.C. Highway 5. York secured its hold on the top spot, beating Northwestern 6-3.
They also came to see York pitcher Zac Fuesser, a 6-foot-1 senior fireballer whose fastball has been clocked at 92 miles per hour. Fuesser saw his share of rough spots, but pitched well enough to run his record to 5-0. He went five innings, gave up six hits, three runs and had nine strikeouts.
Fuesser was relieved in the top of the fifth by David Hyatt, who gave up two hits while recording his fourth save.
The Cougars moved to 8-1 in the region, 10-4 overall.
Northwestern held onto second place, but fell to 8-3 in league play and 10-10 on the season.
"Zac did what he had to do, pitched well enough and got us the win,'' York coach Scot Kiggans said. "He did a great job and David came in and closed the door.
"Our kids were excited about this game. It was one we had to win and they were excited about being ranked for the first time this season. But they know we still have five games left and we have to keep it going.''
If York and Northwestern tie, the Cougars get the region's top playoff berth for beating the Trojans twice in league play. York also beat Northwestern in the Wheels Baseball Invitational.
As pleased as Kiggans was with his pitching, he was quick to comment on the way his team hit the ball. The Cougars had 10 hits, including a home run and two doubles.
Cougars first baseman Shane Waldrop matched Northwestern's runs output with three RBIs. He drilled a two-run homer, his fifth of the season, with Adrion Crawford on first running for Fuesser in the last of the third.
Fuesser doubled to open the fifth and Crawford replaced him at second as a courtesy runner. He wasn't there long. Waldrop chased him across the plate with a single and York led, 6-3.
"I was ready to play; whole team was,'' Waldrop said. "We realized this was a big game and went into it wanting not to slow down. We've been playing well and we have to keep it up.''
Fuesser encountered trouble in the top of the first. He started the game by walking Drew Hardee. Shortstop Will King followed with a hot grounder up the middle for a single.
T.J. Estes went down on strikes for the first out, but Chad Smith lined a single to right-center that scored Hardee. Fuesser struck out the next two batters and got out of the jam.
York tied it in the bottom of the first when Josh Green, who led off with a double off the left-fence, scored on Fuesser's single up the middle.
That was as close as it would get. York put two more runs on the board in the second on RBI hits from Josh Vallejos, who had three hits, and Aaron Watrick. The Cougars added two more on Waldrop's homer in the third for a 5-1 lead.
Northwestern made another move in the fourth, pushing two runners across the plate. Wade Ruff, who was pitching in relief, walked and was replaced on first by Justin Rice. Dylan Carpenter walked. Heath Myers singled Rice home and Carpenter scored on Hardee's single that cut York's lead to 5-3.
York scored the game's final run in the last of the fifth, but Northwestern didn't try to sneak out of town.
In the Trojans' half of the seventh, Hardee led off with a single. That brought up King, who had singled twice. He hit into a double play.
But the Trojans weren't finished. Estes lined a hit up the middle to give Northwestern hope, but Chad Smith grounded out to short for the final out.
"This game definitely had a playoff atmosphere,'' Trojans coach Mitch Walters said. "We faced one of the best pitchers in the state, maybe in the nation, and made a game of it.
"But York was the better team tonight and the best team won. We are getting better, but we don't have anyone like Fuesser.''
York resumes a game against South Pointe today that was suspended last week in the top of the fifth because of lightning. The Cougars have a makeup game with rival Clover on Saturday.