No one has to tell Garner Post 232 and coach Chris Cook that rain can be a factor in the American Legion baseball playoffs.
Last season, Garner saw its run in the state tournament cut short because of bad weather. A year later, rain played a role in helping Garner to a key victory in its Area 1 West semifinal playoff series against Durham Post 7.
Post 232 took a 10-8 victory in a rain-shortened pivotal Game 3 Wednesday afternoon in Durham to take a 2-1 series advantage. As it turned out, Game 3 would be the last game of the series. Rain again on Thursday shortened the five-game series to three games, and Garner won because of its 2-1 advantaged.
On Wedneday, with one out in Durham’s half of the seventh inning, heavy rain forced a delay of the game and ultimately cut the game short with Garner awarded the win.
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In what was supposed to be a best-of-five Area 1 West Championship Series against Apex last season, Garner was forced to bow out prematurely as rain led to games being cancelled three times in five days.
Having been in that position before, Post 232 helped its cause by staking itself to a big early lead on Wednesday.
Taylor Stephens set the tone for Garner in the bottom of the first with a leadoff homerun, the first of his career. Stephens drove in another run in the first as Post 232 batted around and posted six runs in the opening frame.
As in game two of the series, Garner and Durham went back and forth the rest of the way, with Post 232 answering with insurance runs every time Post 7 carved out a lead.
“Right now I can’t say that I like that way, but that’s the way our players are playing; they fight back,” Post 232 coach Chris Cook said of relying on his offense to outscore Durham. “We’ve got some pretty good hitters in our lineup.
“And we’re getting down to the end of this series and we’re getting down to end of pitching, and I think good hitters are going to prevail in this situation.”
Graham Edwards was in control on the mound for Post 232 in the opening game of the series, paving the way for an easy 7-2 victory.
But games two and three were more back and forth, with Durham taking a 9-8 game two victory with a run in the bottom of the ninth.
Bub Deluca’s two-run homer in the fourth cut Garner’s lead to 7-5, as the bats for both teams were coming through.
Despite not playing its best defense in games two and three, Garner got a huge defensive play in the fifth inning to remain out in front with the skies threatening rain.
With two outs and a runner on base, Durham’s Keon Holt looked to have tied the game as his deep shot to left field forced Garner left fielder Keenan Herring all the way back to the warning track.
But Herring, timing his jump, made a leaping catch at the wall and snagged the ball just as it started to sail over the left field fence.
“He makes plays like that,” Cook said of Herring, who is accustomed to playing in center field but has moved to left for Garner Post 232 because of the presence of Garret Suggs in center. “He made a great catch, and as it turns out, it probably was the game-saver.”
Garner would add three runs in the fifth as starting pitcher Kyle Boraski and reliever Jake Ellington helped Post 232 hang on for the key win.
Stephens finished his night for Garner going 3-4 at the plate with three RBIs. Carrington Austin also continued his hot hitting with a pair of hits, including a run-scoring double in the third.