Despite being relegated to the loser’s bracket after just its opening game of the Tar Heel Leagues District V Coach-Pitch double elimination tournament, Benson had a lot of fight left in it and earned a rematch against Cleveland in the championship round.
Benson looked poised to force a second game to determine the champion, twice taking two-run leads, before Cleveland rallied to best Benson 8-3 in extra innings.
Despite amassing eight hits over the game’s first three innings, Cleveland managed just a single run and found itself down 3-1 heading into the fifth inning.
Tanner Elmore’s huge shot to centerfield proved to be too difficult for the Benson outfield to corral and two runs crossed the plate to tie the game in the top of the fifth.
Then, in the top of the seventh inning with two outs and two runners on base, Elmore struck again, this time with a RBI single to left field that scored Porter Carroll to give Cleveland its first lead of the contest.
An error then led to two more runs before Drake Lee all but sealed the game with an inside-the-park two-run homerun to end the top half of the inning.
“We’ve been down a lot before and this team always fights back,” Cleveland coach Steven Dodds said. “It was kind of hard to believe that they weren’t going to fight back, but when it got there towards the end, it was looking close.
“But the bats came out and once the bats are live, there’s no stopping this team.”
After dropping the opening game of the tournament to the same Cleveland team, there seemed to be no stopping Benson from getting all the way back to the championship game.
Benson had to win five consecutive games just to make the championship including three games on Saturday and a 10-inning marathon of a contest against Four Oaks on Sunday just to get into the championship.
Having already won the Southern Johnston Baseball Association Invitational, Benson’s eyes were set on another top finish in order to represent District V at the state tournament.
“These guys fought and they have played more baseball since Wednesday than anyone I know of,” said Benson coach Jason Hall. “Unfortunately, we lost the first game; they came back and showed heart.
“We wanted so bad to finish top three here and go to states so the boys have the chance to make some memories and now they have the chance to do that.”
Aidan Lewis and Brody Ennis had back-to-back RBI singles in the second inning to stake Benson to the 2-0 lead while Nicholas Lee’s single in the third inning scored Joshua Pearson to make the score 3-1.
Drake Lee went 4-of-4 at the plate for Cleveland and Owen Fitzsimmons totaled three hits and three runs including the one he manufactured himself in the third inning with a triple before reaching home on a throwing error.
Dodds likes his team’s chances at the state tournament because of what he sees both inside and outside the lines.
“This is the best team that I’ve ever coached in the 8U league,” Dodds said. “This team gets along very well, they have really good attitudes on and off the field and they have fun playing ball.”