Bunn and Clayton advanced to the championship game of the Johnston County Easter Invitational baseball tournament, each notching a one-run victory in the semifinals Monday night at South Johnston in games that went down to the final out.
In the first semifinal, Clayton rallied from a 7-2 deficit and withstood a grand slam from Andre Wilson to score a 9-8 victory. In the nightcap, defending JCEI champion Bunn rode the hitting – and pitching – of slugger Spencer Brickhouse to a 7-6 victory over Cleveland that snapped an 11-game winning streak by the Rams.
Clayton 9, West Johnston 8
Homeruns played a pivotal role in the first semifinal.
Andre Wilson blasted a grand slam to left-center as part of a five-run third inning that gave West Johnston a 7-2 lead.
Clayton began chipping away immediately, getting two runs back in the top of the fourth and one in the fifth to make it 7-5.
The Comets (8-4) then came up with their big blast when Brooks Verona greeted reliever Wade Eatmon with a three-run homer on Eatmon’s first pitch after entering the game to put the Comets up 8-7.
Clayton added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on an RBI single by Drew Boumenot. It was a run that would prove crucial.
West Johnston (6-7) pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh to pull within 9-8 and had the bases loaded with two outs when reliever John Ross Parrish struck out West Johnston’s Noah Liles looking for the final out of the game.
“They stayed positive in the dugout the whole time,” Clayton coach Stacey Houser said. “It was just chip away. It wasn’t let’s get it back all at one time. It was let’s get a couple of hits and see what we can do.
“They have been very composed all year. They have stayed very positive, up or down, and have stayed pretty even-keel the whole time.”
Clayton got two hits each from Boumenot and Parrish and a strong relief effort from Luke Ennis, who came on in the fourth and pitched into the seventh, allowing only one run.
Bunn 7, Cleveland 6
In the nightcap, Brickhouse, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who has committed to East Carolina and is a pro prospect, started on the mound and worked five-plus innings – giving up three runs. He hit a solo homer in the third inning and a two run double in the Wildcats’ five-run sixth inning and finished with four RBIs.
Brickhouse, a prospect for his bat and the winner of the tournament’s home run derby on Saturday afternoon, has been pressed into pitching duty this season. He likes the change of pace.
“I kind of get on the mound and compete like I do at the plate,” Brickhouse said. “Being a decent hitter, I kind of know what goes through a batter’s mind. I kind of know what pitches I don’t like to hit so I try to throw it at that place.
“It’s a new perspective for me. To go out there on the mound and have control of the game. I have a lot more respect for good pitchers now.”
The five-run sixth gave Bunn (8-2) a 6-3 lead. They added a run on a long sacrifice fly by Brickhouse in the seventh to go up 7-3.
Cleveland (11-2) wasn’t done yet. The Rams took advantage of two Bunn errors to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh– getting a two-run single from Brennan Linfield. But reliever Josh Boone got a strikeout for the final out to preserve the one-run lead and send the Wildcats to the final.
“I think this is the eighth ball game we have played here,” Bunn coach Christopher Cullom said. “I think almost every time we have an exciting seventh inning. …. For some reason we can’t seem to make a routine play in the final inning. But give our kids some credit, we made a pitch when we had to.
“I was really proud of both of those guys who threw tonight (Brickhouse and Boone) because neither one of those guys were pitchers growing up. Spencer was seeing some of his first action on the mound and I thought he was great throwing against a team that had won 11 in a row.”
The 2016 Johnston County Easter Invitational
Saturday, March 26
Game 1: Clayton 13, Smithfield-Selma 3
Game 2: West Johnston 9, Triton1
Game 3: Cleveland 10, Harnett Central 1
Game 4: Bunn 5, South Johnston 3
Monday, March 28
Game 5: Smithfield-Selma 6, Triton 5
Game 6: South Johnston 3, Harnett Central 1
Game 7: Clayton 9, West Johnston 8
Game 8: Bunn 7, Cleveland 6
Tuesday, March 29
Game 9: Triton vs. Harnett Central, noon
Game 10: Smithfield-Selma vs. South Johnston, 2
Game 11: Cleveland vs. West Johnston, 5
Game 12, Championship: Bunn vs. Clayton, 7:30