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He doesn’t coach Little League Baseball, but New England Patriots head man Bill Belichick would have found a lot to like about the in- and post-game performance of the Wilson City Little League All-Stars in the winner’s bracket final of the North Carolina Little League Ages 8-9 State T ournament at Southern Bank Stadium.
Well, except that pesky post-game huddle. Just full of youngsters and looseness. That’s not part of the process.
“You’re losing the post-game huddle!” one of the coaching voices rang out.
That was about the only fault that could be found in a complete showing that saw Wilson methodically march its way into Thursday night’s championship game following a 7-1 victory over Lake Norman. Wilson will have to be beaten twice Thursday by the Lake Norman-Kernersville survivor after Kernersville eliminated Myers Park with a 12-2 win in other Tuesday action.
Three different Wilson pitchers combined to allow just one unearned run, a fifth-inning tally that represented the first blemish against the squad in 13 2/3 innings of state tournament play. Lake Norman enjoyed the benefit of just one base runner in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings and never threatened Wilson with multiple men on the bases.
“That’s one of the biggest things that we try to tell them,” Wilson head coach Eric Lewis said. “We try to preach winning everything. Win the pregame, win the lineup and win everything that you do. Whether it’s defense or offense, we come out and manage the baseball game. We don’t throw the baseball a whole lot. We’re a fundamentally sound team.”
Remarkably, Wilson completed its third game in the tournament without an error.
“We try to be fundamental,” Eric Lewis said. “No surprises. We’re very routine, but we figure routine pays off. We have been working very hard — some long hours on defense. And errors are one of the big things, if we can manage the baseball game, you can keep the other team at a minimum. That’s what we try to do.”
Maximizing the blemishes of Lake Norman, Wilson needed just four hits to produce its seven runs as four of the six walks issued by Lake Norman pitching came around to score. In the first, Wilson loaded the bases with no one out before Landon High bounced into a fielder’s choice that scored Angel Saldana.
The Wilson lead became 3-0 in the second. Loading the bases with Camden Efird’s single, Farris Carinci reaching on an error and a walk to Mack Wiggins, Stone Massey came up and delivered a two-run single up the middle. Efird and Carinci each scored on the play.
“We knew kind of what they were going to do,” Lewis said. “So we practiced on some of that, and it paid off a little bit. They made us struggle a little bit at the plate. We didn’t hit it as well as we wanted to, but we did enough. We did exactly what we needed to do.”
Wilson’s depth was on display in the third in doubling its lead to 6-0. Lake Norman walked the bases loaded, leading to Charlie Maddrey’s two-run single off the bench. Efird, who had two hits, scored in every trip to the plate and garnered the win on the mound, scampered home on a wild pitch to make it 6-0.
The shutout was kept intact temporarily in the fourth. With two outs and a runner on first, Lake Norman’s Jackson Mahoney had a base hit taken away by a dive from Connor Lewis in center field.
Efird allowed two hits over three innings, striking out four without allowing a walk. Landon High threw the fourth and fifth innings before Stone Massey pitched the sixth and final inning. All pitchers were kept well under the maximum to assure availability for Thursday’s championship game.
Lake Norman was able to snap the Wilson scoreless streak in the fifth. Bryson Ulhorn, the losing pitcher, drew a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. He took third on a passed ball and trotted home on a wild pitch.
Wilson didn’t need it, but gained the tally back in the fifth. Elfird singled, took second on a throwing error and reached third on a groundout. With Jack Beamon on first after being hit by a pitch, a double steal erased Beamon, but allowed Efird to beat the return throw home for the final run.
Austin Baxter, Connor Kullman and Jackson Drury each hit safely for Lake Norman, which was limited to three hits.
“We try to keep their attention on everything that we do,” Eric Lewis said. “Whether it’s in practice or whether it’s warmups. And we pride ourselves on focus, and it shows.”
Score by innings:
Lake Norman 000 010 — 1
Wilson 123 01x — 7
WP-Camden Efird 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO. LP-Bryson Uhlhorn 2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilson: Camden Efird 2-2, 3 R, Charlie Maddrey 1-2, 2 RBI, Stone Massey 1-2, 2 RBI; Lake Norman: Austin Baxter 1-3, Connor Kullman 1-3, Jackson Drury 1-3.