Cleveland American probably didn’t expect to face a team that lost its opening round of the Tar Heel Leagues District V Coach-Pitch in the championship round Saturday at Smithfield Community Park. And a comeback win in extra innings wasn’t expected either but that’s exactly what it took to turn back Northeast Johnston 6-4 for the district championship.
After trailing 4-3 through five innings, Cleveland scratched out the game-tying run in its last at bat, then pushed across two runs in the seventh to end the impressive run of Northeast Johnston, which includes players from the Corinth and Glendale communities.
Northeast won five straight elimination games to reach the championship round, including back-to-back games on Saturday morning.
Cleveland American, Northeast Johnston and Benson will all advance to the state tournament, set for July 24-27 in Smithfield and Clayton.
Benson, which opened the tournament with a win over Northeast Johnston, fell 9-6 on Saturday to Northeast in the battle to get to the championship round. Landon Dudley scored three runs for Benson in the loss to Northeast.
In the championship round, Northeast led Cleveland 4-3 entering the sixth and final inning but Cleveland’s Isaac Garcia singled to lead off the sixth inning. Garcia moved around to third base on a Northeast fielding error — one of the few committed during an impressive defensive day by the 7-8-year-old players.
Luke Nixon lifted a fly ball deep enough to allow Garcia to tag up and score on a sacrifice fly, tying the game.
In the seventh, the bottom of the Cleveland batting order shined for the second time in the game. Peyton Gouge singled with two outs and scored on a Tyler Wrench single for a 5-4 lead. Wrench came home on Will Hicks’ at bat on an overthrown ball, giving Cleveland a 6-4 advantage.
Northeast Johnston, which totaled 14 hits on the afternoon to Cleveland’s 10, saw Hunter Cheney and Eli Gibbs both reach on singles with no outs. But Cleveland’s infield recorded outs on the next three hitters to clinch the championship and complete an unbeaten run in the tournament.
Gouge, Wrench and Hicks all had hits and scored in the second to help Cleveland take a 3-0 lead. Gouge tripled to left to start the rally. Braden Sanders and Karter Bossman both had RBIs in the frame for Cleveland.
Northeast went ahead 4-3 in the fourth inning when Brian Baker and Gavin Price both singled and scored. Its first two runs came in the second when Nick Malhot and Cheney came across home plate.