Bedford’s no-hitter sends NCBM to 2nd straight WCLL title

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After two previous meetings failed to produce an anticipated marquee matchup on the mound, North Carolina Baseball Museum and Breakfast Optimist finally locked in for what NCBM head coach Doug Flowers termed “country hardball” during Monday night’s Wilson City Little League Major League championship game.

Although NCBM walked away with a pair of victories over Breakfast Optimist during the regular season, Monday night’s winner-take-all affair was the first time Breakfast Optimist trotted hard-throwing left hander Hunter Lewis to the mound against the defending league champions.

However, NCBM starting right-hander Luke Bedford was up to the task — and then some.

Bedford ran into a scattering of trouble in the top of the first inning via a walk and error, then proceeded to completely silence the Breakfast Optimist bats. Ten strikeouts later, Bedford had retired 15 straight batters on his way to a no-hitter and a 10-0 NCBM victory in five innings at Southern Bank Stadium.

It’s the second straight city championship for NCBM, which ends its season with a 18-0 record.

“This is really the matchup we’ve been waiting for all year,” Doug Flowers said. “Because we knew Hunter was their guy, and Hunter wasn’t here some nights. We wanted this matchup early in the year, and we couldn’t get it. It comes down to the biggest game of the year, and we knew going in it’s going to be who’s more efficient and who blinks first.”

Indeed, if Monday’s affair was a staring contest, NCBM never blinked after the first two batters of the game. Breakfast Optimist opened the top of the first with a walk to Connor Todd and Lewis reaching on an error. But Bedford battled back by striking out the next three batters, and Will Taylor’s two-run double in the bottom half of the inning put NCBM ahead to stay. The shot over the head of Breakfast Optimist right fielder Dylan Hendricks plated Jake Flowers and Bedford, who singled.

In his first at-bat, Lewis narrowly missed a home run down the left-field line by inches. He again jeopardized the no-hit bid in the third by hitting it on a line to center field, but NCBM centerfielder Malachi Griffin ranged over to his right to make the play.

Also key in preserving the zero in the hit column was right fielder Anthony Wooten retiring Seth Scott on a ground ball that reached the outfield to lead off the second inning.

“I just felt like I had to throw strikes and command the strike zone to get people out,” Bedford said. “I had to prepare before the game and make sure that I was ready, and make sure my arm was ready and I could throw strikes.”

Bedford struck out 10 and walked one, finish just shy of his Little League mandated 85-pitch limit.

Yet Breakfast Optimist did itself no favors trying to mount a comeback with its defense. As the visiting team on the scoreboard, it committed four errors and put its pitchers on the hook for seven unearned runs. NCBM plated four runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth to end the game. The fourth and final error for Breakfast Optimist ended the game as the 10th run crossed the plate.

“We were trying to locate the baseball, which may have cost us a few strikes,” Breakfast Optimist head coach Eric Lewis said. “But our defense really didn’t step up in some areas. Like I said, the majority of our kids were 9 and 10 years old, so this is a big game for them and the first league championship that they’ve been in. So, I expect lots of them back next year.”

NCBM made it a 6-0 game in the fourth, parlaying an error, three hit batsmen and a two-run single from catcher Eldon Bass into the comfortable margin. Bedford drove in a run when he was hit with the bases loaded, and Griffin, who reached on the error, scored on a wild pitch.

Lewis lasted 3 2/3 innings for Breakfast Optimist, allowing four of NCBM’s seven hits. He struck out seven and walked four and yielded six runs. Only two were earned.

Bedford, who was also 2 for 3 at the plate with three RBIs, aided his cause with a two-run single up the middle in the fifth. Jack Beamon’s single plated Spencer Bass, who doubled.

Three of the four Breakfast Optimist errors came in the seventh. Flowers reached on one of them, and a ball off the bat of Taylor produced the game-ending miscue as Flowers touched home.

“That’s way up there on my shelf,” Bedford said of his no-hitter. It’s one of the best accomplishments of my life.”

Also on the NCBM roster is Blake Strickland, Noah Warren, Nicholas Wester and Garrison Wester. Flowers’ assistants are Jeff Taylor and Charlie Bedford.

“We finished seventh, eighth, third and we won it last year,” Doug Flowers recalled. “We repeated. That’s the thing I was proud of. We gave ourselves an opportunity to defend our championship. What can you say about an undefeated year? That’s special.”

Score by innings:

Breakfast Optimist 000 00 — 0

NCBM 200 44 — 10

2 on, 2 out when game-ending run scored.

WP-Luke Bedford 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO. LP-Hunter Lewis 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO.

LEADING HITTERS — Breakfast Optimist: None; N.C. Baseball Museum: Spencer Bass 2-3, 2B; Luke Bedford 2-3, 3 RBI, Eldon Bass 1-2, 2 RBI, Will Taylor 1-3, 2B, 2 RBI.