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In an era of analytics and permutations that manifest themselves in shifts and micromanagement at almost any level of baseball, the Wilson City Little League Ages 11-12 All-Stars are a throwback.
Shouldn’t the operations of a championship outfit have a certain depth to them, a complexity that, at a minimum, requires the use of arm bands and three-digit codes to communicate the most minuscule of intentions on the bases?
Forget anything like that happening here.
Wilson is bound for its second trip to the Little League Baseball Southeast Regional in Warner Robins, Georgia, on the basis of simplicity. Head coach Chris Bass, who has overseen both qualifiers with a son (Tyson, 2015 and Ryan, 2019) on each roster, is dogged in his old-school approach.
He typically doesn’t leave the dugout during play unless it’s in the name of making a mound visit. Assistants Rob Ferrell and Chris Radford are entrusted with the base-coaching duties. While other Little League coaches might fret over when’s the best time to insert their four substitutes at the plate, Bass has an open-and-shut philosophy. They’ll hit the second time through the order, regardless of score or game situation. After all, they’ve earned the right to be on the roster.
Bass won’t win every game. But he wins far more than he loses by simply trusting his talent.
That played out on both sides of the spectrum Thursday night at Clements Field in Kernersville in the North Carolina Little League 11-12 championship game against Lake Norman.
Joe Glover, also the starting pitcher, hit a three-run homer in the first inning and kept the Lake Norman bats at bay into the fourth. Wilson’s pitching staff, a unit that has made the going tough on opposing hitters during district and state tournament play, had a 3-0 lead. With the way the Wilson arms have limited run production, that’s a formula for success and a cozy advancement.
But then, the fourth inning hit.
It was an uncharacteristic meltdown for the defense, as Glover was forced to labor a healthy portion of his mandated 85-pitch limit.
After a leadoff walk and a flyout, three consecutive errors saw Wilson’s lead vanquished. Glover gave up a double to put Lake Norman ahead, and the fourth error of the inning put Wilson down 5-3.
Twenty-eight pitches, or 32.9% of Glover’s allowable pitch count, was exhausted in the half inning. Bass could have easily made the move to Seth Evans after watching a hard-hit double sail into left field.
However, he assured Glover, who threw 61 of 87 pitches for strikes, the night before that he would be out there for the duration of his pitch count. Glover escaped further harm and left a runner stranded in scoring position in the fifth.
“He’s my guy,” Bass said of Glover. “He’s just my guy. He’s pitched a lot of big games, and he’s got the mentality to handle it.”
Wilson, trailing for just the second time in the tournament, went ahead to stay in the fifth.
Connor Radford singles and Ryan Bass doubled, bringing up Evans. He was next in line if Glover hit 85 in the seventh, but before that, Evans sent a 1-0 offering over the fence in center field, producing the final margin. The Evans homer was forecast by a Wilson player in the dugout before it left the confines of the field.
“They’ve been mentally tough since the start of the district,” Bass said. “Their will to win has been out the roof. They made a couple errors, and I don’t know how many they made in that (fourth) inning, but it was a bunch. But they came back in and batted, had good at-bats and kept playing. They willed themselves to the victory, just like they’ve done the whole time they’ve been playing.”
The Evans-Glover duo demolished baseballs throughout their time in Kernersville, as each player hit at least one home run in each of the four games. Evans had a grand slam in the opener against Rutherfordton. Bringing the team total to 10 over the four-game span were a Carter Adams homer against Rutherfordton and Tyson Foster’s long ball versus North Asheville.
In the top of the sixth, Bass cashed in on the simplicity, and often the complexity, of trust.
“He told me (Wednesday) night I would be pitching my limit — 85 pitches,” Glover said of Bass.
Glover was sent back out to finish it. The leadoff batter singled and was sacrificed to second.
“My heart was pounding faster,” Glover said. “But all I was trying to do was throw strikes and let them hit it.”
He recorded a strikeout for the second out and reached the 85-pitch limit after Lake Norman fouled one off to make it a 1-1 count. Yet Evans wouldn’t be needed to face another batter. Glover got ahead with a called second strike and missed the bat with his final toss. It was time to celebrate.
“It was incredible,” Glover said. “We’d never done it before. It’s amazing. I can’t wait until we get (to Warner Robins).”
The added scrutiny of the ESPN+ stream will place additional eyes upon Wilson for the second time in program history, but little will change. Players will play and coaches will coach, and with the right combination of bounces, the league that played its first games in 2006 is in play to take its journey one step further.
“It’s very sweet,” Bass said. “They’ve lost in the state championship game three years in a row. And they kept working and they kept working. Their will to win and their work ethic and the way they play, they came down here to win it. It speaks volumes about the kids and their mentality.”
Evans said after Wilson won the district championship that he expected this group “to go a lot longer.”
They’d go to Kernersville, and onto the Little League World Series.
They’re halfway there.