For the third consecutive season, the Garner American Legion baseball team won the Area I West division championship and advanced to the state tournament. The Nationals defeated Raleigh Post 1 7-6 in game five of their best-of-five series Friday night at Apex High School.
Zeke Barefoot singled in two runs in the top of the ninth inning off of Raleigh’s Andrew Papp to give the Nationals the 7-5 lead.
In the bottom of the frame, Post 1 loaded the bases with no outs and drew to within a single run on a bases loaded walk.
However, Garner reliever Troy Maslowski then coaxed a pair of easy grounders from Raleigh’s three- and four-hole hitters before Nationals’ first baseman Trevor Heasley snagged a liner from Mason Dwinell to close out the series.
“We have a team that refuses to lose,” Garner coach Chris Cook said. “Tonight we hit, we ran, we made it interesting as usual at the end but that’s three straight years going to the state tournament and we have a chance to win our third Area I championship.”
It is the second season in a row that the Nationals have bested Raleigh in the Area I West finals and Garner will play against Area I East champion Wilson Post 13 next week to determine seeding before traveling to Catawba College in Salisbury and playing in the state tournament starting July 24.
Barefoot’s big hit in the top of the ninth was retribution, in a sense, as Papp had struck out Barefoot to clinch a Game 4 win for Raleigh Wednesday night.
“The other night, he came after me first with a curveball, so I was looking for a first pitch curveball but I just threw it into left,” Barefoot said of his hit which came off of a fastball instead. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him; he’s a good pitcher and I wish him luck next year.”
The Nationals (16-11) plated three runs aided by two Raleigh errors in the top of the third to take a 5-2 lead.
A Kyle Hawley base hit, a walk and a dropped fly ball loaded the bases for Garner. Trevor Heasley scored on a balk, Hawley scored on a squeeze bunt and Maslowski was brought in on a Vincent Addona sacrifice fly.
Raleigh (14-9) chipped away at the lead posting a run in both the fifth and sixth innings. Kiki Kornegay helped Post 1 run draw to within 5-3 scoring on a wild pitch from third in the bottom of the fifth.
Kornegay also had something to do with Raleigh’s run in the sixth as his sacrifice fly plated Mason Dwinell to cut the Garner lead to a single run.
That run difference held up until the bottom of the eighth when Raleigh’s Trevor Edge blasted a solo homerun over the right field fence to knot the game at 5-all.
Seeing his team fight back and tie the game, Raleigh coach Aaron Rich knew if they could just get to the bottom of the ninth with the score still tied, they would have a great opportunity to secure the win.
However, a dropped fly ball that would have been the third out allowed the inning to continue, putting the bat into Barefoot’s hands.
“I really thought if we could get out of that inning we’d win the game,” said Rich. “Unfortunately we had another error and errors cost us.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted but it was a great series and I couldn’t be prouder.”