Cleveland and Johnston County South were no strangers heading into the Tar Heel Leagues District V Tournament Junior League (ages 13-14) Championship Thursday night, having played each other twice earlier in the tournament.
Cleveland took a lopsided 17-5 win over South on Tuesday, and stellar pitching left South on top 7-0 in their match-up earlier Thursday evening, forcing a deciding third game.
With a championship on the line, a lopsided scoreline wasn’t in the books.
All seven innings proved to be a game of tug-of-war, with South coming out victors 8-7 following a complete game pitched from Zack McLamb, who struck out seven.
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After Cleveland recorded a triple in its first at bat en route to a quick 3-0 lead, it seemed their uninspiring offensive effort less than an hour earlier was a fluke and they would steamroll their way over the Cinderella Story South team.
South had a triple of its own in the second inning as Colton Norris belted a long line drive. A balk from Cleveland pitcher Chase Moore drove Norris in for the tying run that knotted the game up at 3-3.
In the ensuing innings, neither team seemed ready to let up, with each set of runs triggering a response from the opposition. When Cleveland belted in three runs in the bottom of the third, South’s Quan Jaquan Wells didn’t wilt under pressure with two outs and the bases loaded. Wells smacked the line drive down the right field line, earning himself a triple and 3 RBIs, but more importantly, giving South a 6-5 lead, their first of the game.
South showed the depth of its lineup in the fifth inning with its seventh and eighth batters, Cameron Lewis and Austin Dennis, each recording RBIs to give South an 8-5 cushion.
Jesse Parker kept Cleveland (and the highlight reel) alive, knocking in his third RBI of the game to close South’s gap to 8-7.
Parker’s stupendous effort wasn’t enough for Cleveland, who’s remainder of the lineup succumbed to the cool as a cucumber play of McLamb in the game’s final two innings.
Moore (1), Parker (3), Connor Foko (2) and Easton Kapusta (1) batted in runs for Cleveland.
On the winning side, South had runs batted in by Wells (3), Lewis (2), Dennis (1) and Norris (2).
Javier Amezquita was a star on the mound for South in the first game Thursday night, amassing nine strikeouts and seven scoreless innings against a Cleveland team that scored a combined 30 runs in its first two games of the tournament.
After recording two hits in the first inning, it appeared Cleveland’s onslaught from their first two games would continue. Strong pitching from Amezquita sent Cleveland’s batters on a 1-for-16 run ensuing the shaky start to the game, keeping opposing offensive fireworks at bay by the time the game proved to be out of reach.
Amezquita had quite the curtain call, striking out each of his final three batters to end the game.
Jesse Parker, Connor Foko, and Kyle Denning all recorded base hits for Cleveland in the losing effort.
Cleveland had won the first game between the two, 17-4.