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KINSTON — The underdog Wilson American Legion baseball team hustled and scrapped.
But with some of its just nine players hampered by physical ailments, Post 13 was no match for a rested and deep Kinston team of 18 players in Tuesday night’s opening game of the best-of-five Area I East Division semifinals on Kinston High’s Ronnie Battle Baseball Complex diamond.
Kinston, the regular-season division champion for the first time since 1970 and coming off a first-round bye, walked off with six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, prevailing 13-3 and conquering No. 5-seeded Wilson for the third time in as many 2019 outings.
Seemingly, Wilson head coach Noah Edens and assistants Matt Ballance and Derek Matthews are confronted with a different dilemma before each game.
The coaches learned right-hander Dom Gaetano will not pitch during the series because of soreness to his pitching arm. Thus, Edens’ decision was to delay right-hander Austin Slate’s mound start until Wednesday night, leaving right-hander Adam Pendergrass to draw the start.
Pendergrass, who joined Post 13 the final week of the regular season, collected his first hit in Sunday night’s clinching, third-game victory against Farmville Post 15 and went to the mound in the starting role for the first time since age 12.
To Pendergrass’ credit, he kept Wilson in the game through three innings. However, he tired in the fourth and couldn’t locate the strike zone.
Ty Narron was brought in from second base to pitch for the first time this season and Post 43 feasted on his six walks and two hit batters — plating 10 runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
“We did good under the circumstances,” Edens contended. “From the outside looking in, it looked like we mixed up the lineup. That was not the case; we did what we had to do.
“Both pitchers gave us what they had. Adam gave us three good innings and kept us in the game. Ty is a team player and he comes in and gives you what he’s got.”
Hopes flickered for Post 13 (9-10) in the top of the fifth when outfielder Tanner Sullivan’s two-run single cut the Kinston (15-2) lead to 7-3.
“We felt like we were in the game,” remarked starting center fielder Jamar Ellis, whose hustle double accounted for the first hit against Kinston right-handed pitcher Peyton Howard in the fourth inning. “We started getting up and had the momentum.”
But the walks coupled with the outfielders’ struggles to locate the baseball in the twilight signaled a premature ending via the mercy rule.
Center fielder Jalin Connor, a product of Greene Central High, drove in two runs when his outfield fly could not be located. Kinston then walked off when first baseman Ethan May’s pop fly in shallow left-center could not be located.
“If we had minimized the walks, we could do something; we could play defense,” Ellis reasoned. “But when they start scoring runs because of walks, you can’t do anything.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game and we had to work with the players we had. (Pendergrass and Narron) were not starting pitchers, but we knew they could pitch and that we could depend on them.
“My expectation is for us to win a game (Wednesday).”
Ellis scored Wilson’s first run in the fourth with his hustle double and errored grounder off the bat of outfielder Trey Dail.
Post 43’s Howard limited Wilson to three hits and was staked to three quick runs in the bottom of the first on designated hitter Brendon Grant’s three-run home run.
Kinston head coach Ty Eason was aware of Wilson’s adversity, but noted: “You try to ignore that when it comes to playoff baseball. I got really heated in the third when we got lazy and gave them that run. You’ve got to play every pitch like it’s the final one. My expectation is for us to play hard.”
Thus, in the fifth, Kinston was aggressive on the basepaths, frequently stealing bases.
Eason assured the intent was not to make the opponent look bad, but declared: They gave us a couple of opportunities. In the playoffs, any chance to get a run, you need to take it. And if you get it over in five innings, you save pitching.”
And as Wilson’s Edens and Sullivan pointed out: “It is what it is.”
Score by innings:
Wilson 000 12 — 3
Kinston 300 46 — 13
WP-Peyton Howard 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO. LP-Adam Pendergrass (0-1) 3 IP, 3 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilson: Jamar Ellis 1-3, 2B, R; Tanner Sullivan 1-3, 2 RBI; Dom Gaetano 1-3, R. Kinston: Brendon Grant 2-3, HR, 2B, 3 RBI; Malik Dixon 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI; Ethan May 2-3, RBI; Jalin Conner 1-3, 3 RBI.