Despite there being a combined 24 runs scored in the Tar Heel Leagues Inc. District V Coach-Pitch championship game, the difference in the game quite simply came down to defense.
And it was the Cleveland American All-Stars who flashed as much leather as they did offensive prowess as they defeated Four Oaks 15-9 last week at Smithfield Community Park.
Cleveland, who finished the tournament unbeaten, used some solid defensive play early on to stake themselves to the lead.
“We came out in the first inning and held them; that was big,” said Cleveland coach Alan Roberts. “Then every inning, we continued to score and even though we may have given up a few runs, we continued to score and put the pressure on them.”
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Following a 1-2-3 top half of the inning, Carson Barritt’s two-run double in the bottom of the frame put Cleveland out in front.
It was a lead Cleveland would not relinquish.
Hannah Evans, Matthew Hall, William Isastia, Joseph Kelly, Chase Lee and Casey Ryan all drove in runs for a hot-hitting Cleveland club that applied pressure on Four Oaks from the very beginning.
“Our defense kind of let us down,” Four Oaks coach Jonathan Raynor said. “We still hit the ball solid but the defense let us down in the championship.
“You’ve got to play your best game when you’re playing a good team like Cleveland and tonight wasn’t our night.”
After falling behind by seven runs just two innings into the contest, Four Oaks, who had to defeat Pine Level immediately before playing the championship game to earn its spot, showed its heart as they fought back.
A seven-hit outburst in the third led to five huge runs as Cody Bates, Jacob Lee, Brooks McLamb and Eli Price all knocked in runs in the key inning.
Price struck again in the fourth with a single to left field that scored both Lucas Carpenter and Tanner Roberts to cut the lead to 10-9. But, with a chance to take the lead, Cleveland’s Dakota O’Neal made a great stop on a hard shot up the middle to help record the third out and prevent Four Oaks from tying or taking the lead.
“We got contributions from top to bottom,” Cleveland coach Alan Roberts said. “Every kid came through either defensively or with the bat.”
Isastia put the game out of reach for Cleveland in the sixth when his base hit drove in Hall for the game’s last run. Luke Norris led Four Oaks with three hits. Price and Evan Barefoot, who made a tremendous leaping catch in right field in the third, each supplied two hits for the resilient Four Oaks club.
“At the beginning of the season, they would have never made it here,” said Raynor. “They’ve improved a lot and started playing real good baseball. I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
The Cleveland American All-Stars will enter the state Coach-Pitch tournament Thursday in Williamston on a high note.
“We’ve got a good chance,” said Roberts. “ I feel like we can play with anybody on any given day. I like our chances if we play like we’re supposed to, we can play with anybody.”