In the Tar Heel Leagues District V Midget League championship game, Cleveland held high-scoring South Johnston in check for three innings.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the bats for South Johnston did enough damage in the other two frames to back up a combined no-hitter from its pitching staff to claim the championship after a 4-0 victory.
Kaden Gray got the nod to start the game for South and tossed two perfect innings while striking out three and not allowing a ball to get out of the infield.
Ashton Holland took the ball for the next two innings and rolled with it, allowing just one base runner due to an error. Holland struck out a pair of batters as well.
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Will Johnson came on in relief in the fifth inning and, after walking the first two batters he faced, retired the final six including four strikeouts to close out the game.
“Our strongest (part of our game) is pitching,” said South Johnston coach Gabe Norris.
Kaden Gray and Cole Norris each supplied RBI singles in the first inning to help South jump out to the early lead.
In the bottom of the third, Roberto Amezquito led off with a walk, which was followed by a Will Johnson double. Chance Barefoot then singled home both Amezquito and Johnson for the final score line.
Cleveland pitchers Matthew Russell and Landon White held South Johnston in check for the rest of the game, which was not a small accomplishment considering South entered the championship having scored 39 runs in its two previous contests in the tournament.
Russell struck out five batters in two-plus innings and White retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in relief in four innings.
“We blanked them four innings, but not quite long enough and we couldn’t quite get the bats going today,” Cleveland coach Damron Midyette said.
Cleveland’s best chance to scratch through with a run was in the fifth when White and Cole Rabuse each walked to start off the top half of the frame. After a wild pitch allowed the pair to advance to second and third base, respectively, South’s Will Johnson promptly struck out the next two batters.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Cleveland’s Mason Collins hit a hard shot right back up the middle that Johnson was able to knock down before recovering to grab the ball and toss to first to strand the two Cleveland base runners.
“They did what we expected,” said Norris of the tournament title. “Coming in, we felt like we were the favorites. We played well; this is our best game we played and I’m proud of them.”
To make the championship game, Cleveland did get the bats going in erasing an 8-3 deficit against North Johnston for a 10-8 win.
“They didn’t have it at the beginning (of the tournament) and they decided that they wanted to play a little bit longer,” said Midyette. “They have been a little up-and-down but they bring it when they have to. They did today.”
Heading into the state tournament in Boone, Norris knows the track record of South Johnston clubs once representing District V in the states and sees no reason this South Johnston club doesn’t have a chance at a deep run itself.
“I think South Johnston has always represented well when we went,” Norris said. “We expect to do something.”