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The same energy that the Wilson City Little League All-Stars mustered in marching out of the losers bracket of the North Carolina Little League Baseball Ages 9-10 Tournament with three straight victories simply did not translate into Thursday’s championship test against Greenville Tar Heel.
Needing to defeat Greenville twice to claim its third straight age-group state title, Wilson only mustered three hits and was decked by a seven-run fourth inning as Tar Heel invoked the 10-run mercy rule with Lane Tyndall’s two-run single in the bottom of the fourth.
But while the 9-10 team is done for the summer, the Ages 11-12 group will attempt to make a run through its state tournament, which begins Saturday in Kernersville. A title in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament would send Wilson back to the Little League Southeast Regional, a place it visited for the first and only time in 2015.
“Greenville came out ready, and we didn’t,” Wilson Ages 9-10 assistant coach Dewey Scott said. “Early on, we did not do a good job with the little things that good teams do to win. Once Greenville was able to establish a lead, we didn’t seem to have that same fight in us that we’ve had on so many other nights to come back.”
Against District 4 champion Greenville, Charlie Scott led the way at the plate with two of Wilson’s three hits. Connor Lewis singled and laid down a sacrifice bunt. Wilson, which was outhit 9-3 as the visiting team, was hampered by four errors that led to six Tar Heel unearned runs. All but two Greenville players reached base, and eight of the 13 had at least one hit.
Camden Efird took the loss for Wilson, allowing seven hits over three innings of work. He struck out five and walked one, with four of his runs being earned before turning matters over to T.J. Coleman and Angel Saldana. Wilson relievers were tagged with four of the six unearned runs.
The game was delayed in the top of the fourth inning via lightning siren that halted play for 82 minutes.
After beating Lake Norman 4-3 in the opening round and falling to Winston-Salem in the winners bracket, Wilson, the District 6 champion, put itself in position to play for the championship with a 15-8 victory over Cherryville, a 6-3 conquest of Lake Norman and beating Winston-Salem National 7-4 on Wednesday night.
“Although that was a disappointing way to end it, it certainly doesn’t take away from how proud everyone is of these boys, and how hard they have worked,” Dewey Scott assured.
LAST TEAM STANDING
Wilson arrives in Kernersville as a fully-stocked outfit from a pitching perspective after using just three hurlers in winning the District 6 title. Right-hander Carter Adams will get the ball in the team’s opening-round game against District 1 kingpin Rutherfordton. Should Wilson prevail, it would move into a Sunday 2 p.m. game against the winner of District 5 champion North Asheville and District 7 winner McDowell County. The losers will face off at 4 p.m. in an elimination game.
Wilson arrived in Kernersville early Friday evening.
“Practices were really good,” Wilson head coach Chris Bass said. “They’re ready to play. I told them at the end of practice the other night that they were ready. All you’ve got to do know, is go do it.”
The rule of thumb in All-Star play is that it’s a prudent move to have Bass on staff in some capacity. Of the 10 WCLL teams that he has served on as either a head coach or an assistant, none have failed to win at least a district championship, including the 2015 team that reached the Southeast Regional.
In the other half of the bracket, District 2 champion Winston-Salem National gets Wilson nemesis Greenville Tar Heel, the District 4 winner. East Surry, the host team out of District 2, faces District 3 ruler Lake Norman.
Greenville has ousted Wilson in 11-12 state tournament play in each of the last two years.
“All the teams are going to be viable teams,” Bass said. “There’s probably not going to be a walk-through. Everybody got there by beating somebody. Normally every team’s going to have one pitcher, and that’s all it takes to ruin your trip!”
But if pitching has the capacity to be an equalizer for foes, Wilson isn’t without its own instruments of ruinous destruction. Bass trotted out three pitchers in Adams, Seth Evans and Joe Glover in district play, with Adams getting the complete-game victory in the clinching 3-0 win over South Durham. Evans is also a capable bat in the middle of the order after hitting three homers in the district tournament, including a two-run homer to help clinch Wilson’s spot in the state tournament.
At the ready but yet unused in postseason play is Tyson Foster, Simon Quinn, Ryan Bass, Connor Radford and Cole Davis. Should an early loss necessitate it, Bass said the entirety of the 13-player roster can contribute on the mound in some form.
“It’s a great advantage,” Bass said of his deep rotation. “At times, when you can save a pitcher, you can take him out and if you’ve got a kid that’s good enough behind him to come in and finish the game, it means everything in tournament play when there’s a limitation on pitching, like Little League. The longer you can save your better arms, the better chance you’ve got of winning.”
Loosely translated — avoid the losers bracket.
“You want to get to Tuesday (the winners bracket final) with pretty much your top pitchers being ready on Tuesday and Thursday (championship round),” Bass said. “That’s the plan. We’ll see how it works.”
Bass, who seemingly never lacks a quiet confidence, did not limit Wilson’s prospects in tournament play.
“They can win it,” he said. “There’s no doubt they can win it. Tournaments like this usually take a little bit of luck and some outside factors other than talent. They’re talented enough to win the tournament. But everything doesn’t always go your way.”