Cary manager Scott Pose knows his team can’t afford to be giving the Garner Nationals any help.
Despite a relatively quiet day at the plate for the hard-slugging Nationals, Garner still managed more than enough offense in a 9-4 American Legion win on Monday. Paired with a doubleheader sweep of Roxboro on Tuesday, the win helped the Nationals finish tied for second with Apex in the Area 1 West Conference. Garner and Apex will open a best-of-five series on July 7. All of the series games are expected to be played at Apex since Garner (18-4 overall), a squad made up of players from Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Johnston County, does not have a home field.
Through six innings against Cary, Garner had all nine of its runs on just four hits, aided at the plate by eight walks and four Cary errors.
“We’re not the kind of team that can afford to give them extra chances,” Pose said. “They’re a good team as it is and when we do that we really dig ourselves a hole. So that really made it tough on us tonight.”
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The Nationals finished with six hits in all, one of them a third-inning grand slam off the bat of Jack Sherrill on the heels of three straight walks. The blast gave Garner a 4-2 lead that was never relinquished.
Cary starting pitcher Jeff Salchert cruised through the first two innings, facing the minimum six batters. But with Cary slated for a three-game postseason play-in series beginning on July 3 against Rocky Mount, Pose wasn’t taking any chances with his ace and pulled Salchert to start the third.
“This was a bullpen session for him. We have to save him,” Pose said. “He’s going to go as long as he can on Thursday so that was the whole reason why,” Pose said. “He’s been our most consistent pitcher.”
“We knew going in that they probably weren’t going to stick with any one person,” Garner manager Chris Cook said.
Cary used four more pitchers over the remaining seven innings as Garner rung up nine runs from the third through the sixth frames. In the fourth, a wild sequence of three consecutive misthrows plated a Nationals run and was followed by an RBI single from Chandler Jones.
Garner scored twice more in the fifth despite a ball never leaving the infield, with three walks, three stolen bases and two errors pushing the lead to 8-3. Taylor Stephens capped the scoring with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly.
“We did what we had to do,” Cook said. “I’m more impressed with our pitching. I can’t believe we held them to four (runs). Our last three games we’ve held the other team to under four runs which gives us a chance.”
Garner starter Kevin Cutler worked his way around seven hits and six walks in as many innings to earn the victory. Cutler gave way to Nick Yarbrough, who worked the final three innings and bent but didn’t break. Cary loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth but couldn’t score and loaded the bases again with one out in the ninth but again failed to score.
Cary took an early 2-0 lead when Chase Pose poked a two-out, two-run single in the first. A bases-loaded walk in the third brought in another run and Robbie Thorburn singled home a run in the sixth.
Eric Gilbert, Nick Venditti and Jake Tully all had two-hit games for Cary while Tripp Atkinson did the same for Garner.
The Nationals beat Roxboro 8-7 in the opener Tuesday night, then won 5-3 on Tripp Atkinson’s two-run home run in the 10th ining of the nightcap.