MORGANTON — The East Surry Little League U12 All-Stars ended their run through the North Carolina Little League championship series as state runners-up.
The Cardinals reached the half-way point of the tournament at Morganton’s Catawba Meadows Park recently with hard-fought wins over Jackson County (8-5) and Coul-Oak (6-5), but then ran into fellow unbeaten Greenville-North State lon July 23, with the winner going through to the championship round needing just one more win.
Until the final inning, it appeared as though East Surry would be that team. The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, then added three more in the bottom of the third after Greenville had finally gotten on the board. The score remained 5-1 until the sixth and final inning. In the top half, Greenville had seven straight batters reach base on two walks and five hits before East Surry, which had secured the first out to open the frame, managed to get the second out. On this out, a bases-loaded fielder’s choice, Greenville took a 6-5 lead. Two more singles pushed their lead to 8-5 before the Cardinals finally got out of the inning.
Greenville put in a new pitcher for the bottom of the seventh, who struck out the side to secure the win.
Earlier in the game, there was a long rain delay midway through the first inning, but when play resumed, East Surry took a 2-0 lead thanks to a Luke Bowman leadoff walk and a one-out single by Folger Boaz. Both eventually scored on repeated wild pitches from Greenville.
In the Cardinals’ third, Boaz and Luke Brown both walked, and Brett Clayton homered with two out to extend his team’s lead to 5-1.
The loss to Greenville didn’t bother the Cardinals when they returned to the field on Tuesday night for a rematch with Coul-Oak, who came through the elimination bracket after their first loss to East Surry. The winner would advance to the championship round against Greenville, but it was no contest, as the Cardinals won 4-0.
East Surry’s Bowman led off the game with a double, advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Matthew Keener, and scored on a wild pitch. With two out in the third, Brown tripled, and then extended the lead to 2-0 when he scored on yet another wild pitch.
In the Cardinals’ fourth, Clayton led off with a walk, moved to second while the next two batters were striking out, and finally scored on two more wild pitches with Cooper Motsinger at the plate.
A wild pitch also led to the final run, in the top of the sixth. This time, Clayton struck out swinging at a wild pitch and ended up on third base after a throwing error by the Coul-Oak catcher. He scored on a groundout by Stephen Keener.
Anthony Ayers pitched four shutout innings to earn the win. Brown and Jordan Davis finished the game with no runs allowed.
The Cardinals needed to beat Greenville twice on Wednesday to take the state title, but were already down 8-0 before getting on the scoreboard for the first time in the top of the third inning. Greenville went on to win the game 11-2 and force East Surry to settle for state runner-up honors for the second year in a row.
After the Cardinals put two runners on and failed to score in the top of the first, Greenville put three on with nobody out and got two of them home for a 2-0 lead. A grand slam was the big blow in a six-run second inning that blew the game open for Greenville, but East Surry tried to fight back in the third, as Luke Bowman and Davis hit back-to-back singles with one out. Boaz’ double drove in a run, and a passed ball forced in a second run. Unfortunately, that was all the offense the Cardinals could muster.