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CARY—Facing elimination, the Southwest Trojans won two games Sunday in the Eastern qualifier and advanced to the Junior American Legion state championship series.
The series began Wednesday in Kinston, and the state championship game will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday. This is the second time the Trojans—coached in the qualifier by David Batten and Brian Walker along with manager Mike Alderson—will play in the state series.
The Trojans (26-6) reached the state championship series by beating Leland Post 68 11-10 in a loser-out game Sunday afternoon and Wayne County North 13-3 in another loser-out Sunday night. Both games were played at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Eight teams were in the tournament.
The Trojans opened the qualifier Saturday morning with a loss but won their loser-out game Saturday afternoon. (Summaries and photos are on Page 3B.)
“They were flat in the first game,” Alderson said, “then they showed up to play the second one. Brock (Holmes) gave us five good innings and (pitcher) Alex (Memory) came in and closed it down.”
Sunday, the Trojans had to win two games to qualify for the championship series.
“Today just had to be a gut performance by everybody,” Alderson said. “We got a great outing by Gavin (Lane).”
Lane was the starting pitcher in the first game Sunday afternoon. Because the Trojans already had played three games heading into the game Sunday night, they had just two pitchers left: Randy Daniels and Marquise Johnson.
“We pitched the two pitchers that hadn’t pitched any innings yet,” Alderson said. “Marquise came in (as a reliever) and did a great job. Randy gave us two good innings.”
Most teams had depleted their pitching staffs by their third games, and Alderson knew that would be an advantage for his team.
“We swung the bats,” he said. “When you get to this point, it’s who swings the bats, because all the pitching’s gone.”
The Trojans also had solid defense in the infield and the outfield.
“I’m really proud of them,” Alderson said. “Losing the first one and coming back to qualify, that’s a great job. The kids have done a great job.”
He also praised his assistants.
“They’re two volunteers who love the game,” Alderson said. “They’ve done a great job for us. I think they’re looking forward to going to Kinston. They’re excited—like the kids.”
Below are summaries of the two games Sunday:
LELAND POST 68 10
The Leland Post 68 and Southwest Trojan baseball teams have played each other four times in the past few weeks, and the fourth time—Saturday in a loser-out game of the Eastern qualifier—was the most exciting and most controversial of all four.
The Trojans won 11-10, rallying for four runs in the bottom of the sixth to take an 11-8 lead and then holding off a Post 68 rally in the top of the seventh. Post 68 scored three runs in the top of the seventh and had the tying run on second base when relief pitcher Jay Gause got D.J. Graham to ground out to second base to end the game.
The Trojans trailed 8-7 entering the bottom of the sixth. Justin Cook led off with a walk against reliever Randall Rabon. Logan Tripp and Gause reached on fielder’s choices, leaving the Trojans with runners on second and first and two outs. What happened next led to the controversy: Blain Turner either was hit by pitch or fouled the ball of the top end of his bat. The home plate umpire and the field umpire conferred and awarded first base to Turner, much to the disgust of the Post 68 coaching staff. The walk loaded the bases, and Alex Memory followed with a two-run double that put the Trojans ahead 9-8. Turner scored on a wild pitch and Nick Napolitano singled home the Trojans’ final run of the inning for an 11-8 lead.
In the top of the seventh, Rabon and Justin Pauley led off with singles against reliever Memory. A passed ball and a wild pitch allowed one run to score. Gause came in to pitch, and he got A.J. Perkins to ground into a double play, turned by Hunter Allen, Tim Powell and Logan Tripp. A run scored on the play, and that cut the Trojan lead to 11-10. Tim Walsh, the starting pitcher, followed with a double, but Gause ended the game by getting the third out on a groundball.
The Trojans’ Gavin Lane pitched five and one-third innings, giving up five hits. He walked five and hit one. He struck out four. He was charged with eight runs.
Post 68 scored a run in the first, but the Trojans scored three runs in the second. A walk to Gause and singles by Turner and Memory loaded the bases with one out. Nick Napolitano reached on a fielder’s choice, driving in a run, and singles by Powell and Allen scored two more runs.
In the top of the third, a triple by Graham led to a run for the Post 68, but the Trojans scored four runs in the fourth to take a 7-2 lead. With one out, Powell singled and went to second on an error. Allen singled, and a run scored on an error on the play. With two outs, Tripp singled in a run, putting the Trojans ahead 5-2. Gause singled, and the final run of the inning scored on a single to right field by Jesse Simmons.
But Leland rallied in the next two innings to take an 8-7 lead.
In the fifth, with one out, Walsh was safe on an infield single. Graham was hit by a pitch. Nick Spell reached on a fielder’s choice. Ryan Brendle walked, loading the bases. A walk to Dakota Irwin forced in a run and Rabon singled in another run. A passed ball allowed in the final run of the inning.
Post 68 took an 8-7 lead in the top of the sixth. With one out, Perkins and Walsh singled. Reliever Lorenzo Pigott gave up run-scoring singles to Graham and Spell. Memory came in to pitch, and Brendle’s groundout scored the run that put Post 68 ahead 8-7 and set up the thrilling end of the game.
For the game, Graham was 2-for-2 with a triple and one RBI. He walked and was hit by a pitch. Rabon was 2-for-3 with a walk and one RBI. Walsh was 3-for-4 with a double. Spell singled and walked and had one RBI. Brendle walked and had one RBI. Irwin walked and had one RBI.
For the Trojans, Allen was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Tripp was 2-for-4 with one RBI. Simmons was 2-for-3 with a walk and one RBI. Memory was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Powell was 2-for-4 with one RBI. Turner singled and was hit by a pitch. Napolitano had a run-scoring single.
WAYNE COUNTY NLORTH 3
In an anticlimactic finish to the Eastern qualifier, the Trojans beat Wayne County North 13-3 in six innings to advance to the state championship series.
Wayne County scored a run in the first, but the Trojans scored five runs in the bottom of the second. After a leadoff single by Blain Turner and a double by Alex Memory, Brock Holmes singled home two runs. With one out, Hunter Allen reached on an error and Justin Cook walked, loading the bases. A walk to Logan Tripp forced in a run, giving the Trojans a 3-1 lead. Jay Gause was safe on an infield error, and two runs scored when a sliding Tripp broke up a double play.
Wayne County scored a run in the third on a base-loaded walk by Randy Daniels. Marquise Johnson came in to pitch with no outs, and he got the first batter he faced to pop up. A run scored on a passed ball, but Johnson got the second out by a strikeout. The inning ended when shortstop Hunter Allen ran to this left past second base to field a groundball and, while spinning to keep his balance, threw to Tripp at first for the third out.
In the bottom of the third, Turner and Memory led off with walks. A groundout by Brock Holmes advanced the runners to third and second, and a single by Josh Powell drove in two runs for a 7-3 lead.
In the fifth, the Trojans scored five runs. Holmes walked and went to second on Powell’s sacrifice bunt. Allen followed with a single, and a run scored on Cook’s popup behind first base. After Tripp walked, Gause singled in two runs. A groundout by Jesse Simmons drove in a run, and a single by Turner gave the Trojans a 12-3 lead. After Tripp walked, a sacrifice fly by Jay Gause drove in the winning run.
Johnson pitched four innings, giving up no runs and no hits. He walked two and struck out four. Defensively, in the top of the second, the infield of Memory, Allen and Tripp turned a double play.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.