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The first inning set the tone in Wednesday afternoon’s North Carolina Little League State Ages 9-11 State Tournament championship game 1 at Southern Bank Stadium.
The first three Greenville Tar Heel batters rapped base hits and host Wilson yielded three runs in the top of the first inning.
Then, in the bottom half of the inning, right-handed Greenville pitcher James Sawyer shrugged off an one-out error with three strikeouts.
Greenville, a 4-1 loser to Wilson in the winners bracket final Monday, forced a final game in the championship series with a 10-0 victory in five innings.
The contest was shortened an inning via the mercy rule when Greenville erupted for six runs in the top of the fifth and Sawyer, after yielding a lead-off single, struck out two more batters.
The showdown for the state championship is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Southern Bank Stadium. The winner gets a berth to the the Tournament of State Champions in Greenville, which was won by Greenville Tar Heel last year.
“They came out and got hits early, got the three runs and that was pretty much the ball game,” said Wilson head coach Chris Bass. “The tone was set in the first inning and we never recovered. The kids kind of quit on me a little bit in the fifth inning, but I guess they felt like they weren’t going to do much with their pitcher.”
Sawyer, in throwing 64 pitchers, stopped Wilson on a pair of singles and one walk while striking out nine. Wilson never advanced a base runner to third base.
“He had good velocity,” Bass acknowledged of Sawyer. “He was throwing it up and we were swinging at it. He’s a good pitcher and a good kid.”
Expressed Greenville head coach Brayom Anderson: “(Sawyer) is one of our better pitchers. But this is a great group of kids and they play well together. They believe in ‘team’ and not ‘me’ and sacrifice for each other. They stay up 99 percent of the time, don’t get down and don’t let up.”
In the first against starting Wilson right-handed pitcher Joe Glover, Greenville shortstop Justin Grimes and right fielder Ryker Butcher each singled. Third baseman Davis Bradley hammered an RBI double. Sawyer and second baseman Max Mason each drove in a run with an infield grounder and single, respectively.
Greenville, 3-1 in the tourney, nicked Glover for an unearned run in the fourth and chased him in the fifth, when the Wilson defense committed three errors and Glover yielded a bases-loaded walk to Mason.
Wilson got a single from Glover in the first and a lead-off single from pinch hitter Nathan Matthews in the fifth.
Anderson mentioned the first three runs as pivotal.
“That was what was important for us this time,” he said, “because that’s what happened to us (Monday).”
Greenville, in 2017, went on to win the regional after conquering Wilson in the state tournament championship game in Forest City.
“Tomorrow is the deal,” Anderson declared. “That’s what we have been practicing in the 100-degree weather for.”
Wilson, 2-1 in the tournament, seeks its first appearance in the premier event for the 11-under age group.
“We are planning on bouncing back,” Bass commented. “We have plenty of pitching for tomorrow and we’ll do it again. Now, I just have to figure out what I’m going to tell them.”
Score by innings:
Greenville 300 16 — 10
Wilson 000 00 — 0
WP-James Sawyer 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 SO. LP-Joe Glover 4 1/3 IP, 8 H, 10 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Greenville: Justin Grimes 2-3, Ryker Butcher 2-3, Max Mason 2-3; Wilson: Joe Glover 1-2, Nathan Matthews 1-1.