The South Johnston All-Stars have been a team propelled by their ability to hit the ball out of the park all summer. The 11-12-year-old squad took that characertistic to an extreme in the deciding game of the Tar Heel Leagues Inc. State Championships at Optimist Park in Boone on Sunday.
South Johnston hit six home runs — including five in one inning — to down Hickory 13-9 in a winner-take-all battle and bring home the state championship.
Hickory forced the deciding game with a 3-0 win on Sunday morning. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning when Hickory put a pair of runners on and Julien Peissel lined a ball just over the right-center field fence to hand South Johnston its first loss of the tournament.
And Hickory jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of final game on Sunday. But South Johnston started plugging away in its second and third at bats, cutting the lead to 4-3 before the big bats got rolling in the bottom of the fourth.
Braxton Ennis opened the inning with a solo home run to center field and teammate Ayden Wood deposited the very next pitch over the center field wall as well to pull South even at 5-all. After Ryan Denning reached base on a Hickory fielding miscue and Michael Jacobs singled with one out, Jimmy Hines Jr. — the No. 9 man in the South batting order — lifted a ball over the left field fence for a three-run home run.
Later in the inning, Parker Wood and Chase Carroll both hit two-run home runs to push South’s lead to 12-5.
The home run barrage continued in the fifth with Ennis going deep again.
Hickory closed to within 13-9 in the top of the sixth inning before South Johnston ended the comeback bid and wrapped up the state title.
South Johnston opened the tournament with a 13-1 win over host Watauga County, then beat Southern Pitt Blue 14-4. In the winners’ bracket final, South beat Hickory 8-2 on Saturday afternoon, then Hickory earned its spot in the championship round with a 4-3 win over East Chatham Blue.
Members of the South Johnston All-Stars who won the Tar Heel Leagues Inc. state Little League (ages 11-12) championship in Boone recently were Jaydn McNeill (Four Oaks), Cole Howard (Meadow), Lucas Carpenter (Four Oaks), Nicholas Jackson (Four Oaks), Parker Wood (Four Oaks), Ayden Wood (Meadow), Dewayne Schneider (Benson), Ryan Denning (McGee’s Crossroads), A.J. Byrd (Meadow), Jimmy Hines (Benson), Chase Carroll (Meadow), ), Michael Jacobs (McGee’s Crossroads) and Braxton Ennis (Benson).
The team was coached by Chris Carroll (Meadow), Mike Jacobs (McGee’s Crossroads) and Raylon Wood (Four Oaks).