The first of what is expected to be a season-long battle for Area I West American Legion Baseball supremacy between Raleigh Post 1 and the Garner Nationals didn’t disappoint.
Post 1 rallied from a two-run deficit, then held off the Nationals’ late comeback attempts for a 5-4 victory Sunday night at Fleming Stadium. (The two teams were scheduled to meet again Monday night at Campbell University.)
The win gives Raleigh (4-4 overall) the early division lead (2-0); Garner dropped to 4-5 overall and 1-1 in the division.
After Garner built a 2-0 lead on Matt Duckworth’s sacrifice fly in the first and Vince Addona’s home run in the second, before pitchers Andrew Papp of Post 1 and the Nationals’ Duckworth threw up a string of zeroes on the scoreboard.
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Raleigh broke that streak up in the bottom of the fifth as Duckworth started to lose command. Dillion Cooper led off the inning with a double and Joe Woods hit a one-out single to put runners on the corners. Jack Conley, an N.C. State recruit who was the only Triangle-area prep player to be drafted in the MLB Draft this week (30th round to Boston), followed with a single to get Cooper home and Post 1 on the scoreboard.
Duckworth bounced back with a strikeout for the second out of the inning before Kiki Kornegay walked to load the bases.
A wild pitch scored Woods and then Trevor Edge tripled into the right field corner to plate Conley and Kornegay, pushing Raleigh’s lead to 4-1.
An inning later, Post 1 added what proved to be the game-winning run when Sam Duncan singled, moved to second on a ground out and took third on a wild pitch. That set up a chance for Coyle who bounced a ball to Garner second baseman Cole Hinnant. Hinnant threw home to Kyle Hawley, but he didn’t get the tag on Duncan in time and Raleigh’s lead grew to 5-1.
Papp, another N.C. State recruit, held Garner scoreless through his final five innings of work. He gave up seven hits, an earned run, struck out eight and issued three walks to get the victory.
Garner threatened in both the sixth and seventh frames against the 6-foot-4 right-hander, putting pairs of runners on base in both innings.
Conley threw out a runner trying to steal second in the seventh to squelch that rally attempt and Papp started a double play to end the sixth when he snared a Garner bunt attempt in the air, then doubled up the runner off of second base.
In the eighth, the Nationals started scoring again. Addona, who was 3-for-3 on the night, doubled home Trevor Heasley to get Garner within 5-3.
An inning later, an error and a dropped third strike put two runners on for the Nationals with nobody out. Zeke Barefoot, the lead runner, moved to third base on a wild pitch and then scored on a passed ball to get the Raleigh lead down to 5-4 with nobody out for the Nationals and the potential game-tying run (pinch runner Sully Keele) in scoring position.
Keele moved to third on a ground out, but was thrown out at home by Cooper (the Raleigh shortstop) trying to score on a ground ball by Duckworth for the second out.
Cooper followed that up with another big play behind Raleigh reliever Trevor Edge.
The Raleigh shortstop grabbed a bouncing ball up the middle on the second baseman’s side of the bag off of the bat of Heasley and threw him out to end the contest.
Cooper also threw another Garner runner out at the plate who tried to score on a ground ball earlier in the night. He was 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk as well.
Raleigh drew eight walks on the night, while the Nationals struck out nine times and drew just four walks. Post 1 had nine Ks as well on the evening.