Cleveland and Princeton both brought the lumber in their championship game of the Tarheel Leagues District V Little League Open division Thursday night at Smithfield Community Park.
Fortunately for Cleveland, they were able to hang up a few more crooked numbers on the scoreboard than their opponents and earned a berth in the state tournament with a 9-6 win.
The two sides combined for 15 hits but it was Cleveland that scored its runs in bunches with a three-run first inning, two-run second and a pivotal four-run fourth inning. The fourth was highlighted by Luke Parker’s deep blast over the center field wall that scored two runs, supplying Cleveland with a 9-3 lead.
The gutsy Princeton club rallied to cut the lead in half in the fifth inning when Trace Hickman scored on a Cleveland error after leading off the frame with an infield single.
Charlie Benton followed with a sharp grounder up the middle that led to two more runs, as Cleveland was unable to turn the inning-ending double play.
Princeton’s Jacob McCain, who had come in on relief in the bottom of the fourth inning to successfully quell the Cleveland bats, did so again in the fifth, this time recording the final two outs on tough grounders hit right back to him.
In the top of the sixth with Princeton down to its final at bat, Cleveland reliever Spencer Sabatino sealed the win as he managed to pull off something that had not happened in the entire game up to that point: a one-two-three inning.
Princeton put up a run in each of the first two innings to stay in the game against its explosive opponent and trimmed the Cleveland lead to 5-3 in the top of the fourth when Benton scored on a grounder to the right side of the infield.
Hickman led Princeton with a pair of base hits while Jacob Barnes, Dayde Farrell, Daniel Garcia and Aaron Phillips recorded the other hits for their squad.
Each batter for Cleveland reached base safely at some point throughout the course of the game. Matthew Hall contributed a pair of singles and the speedy Caleb Karie doubled in a run, stole a base and wreaked havoc on the base paths using his speed to zip around for two more runs himself.
Ethan Giangreco, Dylan Johnson, Max Kasprowicz, Garrett Langdon and Sabatino accounted for the other Cleveland hits.