Garner Cleveland: Sports

Defending champs rally by Garner

Garner’s pitching and offense has been much better than its defense so far in the N.C. American Legion State baseball tournament.

And on Sunday night in the winners’ bracket final at Fleming Stadium that came back to bite them.

Two of Post 232’s four errors helped load the bases before rising N.C. State sophomore catcher Chance Shepard got the tying and winning runs on a single to left, giving defending state champion Wilmington Post 10 a 6-5 comeback win.

“It’s tough,” Garner coach Chris Cook said. “We’ve kicked it around for three games and it caught up with us tonight. The game was in our hands. We should have had two outs in the eighth and instead we gave up two runs. Credit their pitchers for shutting us down for six innings. Tomorrow we’ll see if we can bounce back.”

Wilmington was playing its second game of the day, having shellacked Lincoln County Post 455 13-1 Sunday morning in a game that was rained out Saturday night.

The double-elimination tournament continues Monday at 1 p.m., with Garner (24-6) taking on Randolph County Post 45 (33-6). Wilmington (28-1) plays Kernersville Post 26 (31-9) at 5.

“We’ve been motivated to repeat all year long,” Wilmington coach Scott Sandlin said. “We had kids come back from college to try to help us get to a regional and hopefully to get to a World Series. Tyree Johnson did a great job keeping us in it (allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings of relief for the win). And I bet Chance has had half of our big hits over the past four years.”

Garner starter Garrett Suggs went six innings in a no-decision, allowing four runs on eight hits with four strikeouts against four walks.

“I pitched OK and I felt good at the plate,” said Suggs, who was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. “But we didn’t win. Now we’ve just got to come back and do everything we can to win this tournament.”

Wilmington starter Kenny Lanier, a rising sophomore at Wake Tech, lasted 1 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on four hits, with three strikeouts against one walk.

Christian Wolfe went 4-for-5 with an RBI and three steals to lead Wilmington.

Lucas Scott went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI for Garner.

“I was just seeing the ball good,” Scott said. “Everything looked like a beach ball tonight until my last at-bat. We’ve just got to win and put everything out on the line. It’s all we can think about right now.”

Camo-clad Wilmington scored a run in the first as leadoff man Wolfe singled and stole two bases before scoring on Shane Shepard’s fielder’s-choice ball to second.

Garner, wearing gold jerseys, exploded for four runs to knock Lanier out in the second. After Zak Orrison was hit by a pitch, Suggs tied it with an RBI double to left followed by an RBI double to right from Scott. With two out, Taylor Stephens hit an RBI single to left followed by Addison Braswell’s triple to left center.

Garner added another in the third as Scott hit an infield single to first and scored on Nick Stuart’s one-out double.

Wilmington turned it into a nail-biter with a three-run sixth. Collin Thacker and Jack Faircloth drew back-to-back walks, scoring on a one-out single from Colin Dolan and a two-out single from Wolfe before Dolan scored on a wild pitch.

And then Chance Shepard came up with the eighth-inning heroics.

“I had seven at-bats (for State), I think,” he said. “It was frustrating and humbling, but I’m just getting used to live at-bats and getting my swing right. I finally feel good. It’s a process. You just have to stay locked in and keep your head up. I struck out on a bad changeup. On the last at-bat I got a fastball down and shot it through the five-six hole.”

In losers’ bracket games on Sunday Randolph County bounced Shelby Post 10 10-6 and Kernersville demolished Lincoln County 12-0 in a game stopped after seven innings.

The championship will be determined on Tuesday.