For the first time since 2014, Wayne County Post 11 is heading to the N.C. Senior American Legion state tournament.
In his most important start of the season, Will Pennington pitched a complete-game four-hitter, and Wayne County used a fifth-inning rally to earn a 5-2 victory, and win the Area I East tournament, against Pitt County Post 39 on Saturday evening.
“Will Pennington is just one of those kids where you’re happy for him. He’s a kid you’re cheering for no matter what. I’m glad he’s on our team,” Wayne County Post 11 head coach Adam Pate said. “That was a great Pitt County team. They are well-coached and really talented, so hats off to our guys for sticking it out.
“I’m just happy for them.”
Wayne County scored first in the bottom of the first inning.
Will Albert drew a walk, stole second, and then trotted home on Logan Merritt’s RBI single.
However, in the top of the second, Pitt County responded and managed to take the lead when Ty Johnson hit a two-run single, but from that point on, Pitt County had no answer for Pennington.
“We achieved what I wanted, which was to score first. In a game like this, your at-bats seem to go away faster,” Pate said. “So, scoring first has a lot of impact on that, but when Pitt scored those two runs, I loved how Will Pennington responded.
“I thought our guys continued to battle.”
After a scoreless third and fourth inning, Post 11 made its move in the bottom of the fifth.
Campbell Cunningham drew a walk, and thanks to a Pitt County error, Sam Rice reached first, while Cunningham ran to third.
Another Pitt error on a Rowan Watt grounder enabled Cunningham to score and tie the ballgame.
Albert then hit an RBI single to give Wayne County a 3-2 lead, and Wayne County continued to add to its lead.
Pitt’s third error of the inning on Justin Holland’s grounder let Holland reach first, and Albert get to second.
Then as he has done all season, Merritt delivered another clutch hit. His two-run single put Wayne County up 5-2.
“It seemed like leading up to this game, we would find a way to kind of shoot ourselves in the foot at times, but we always responded, and it never really cost us much,” Pate said. “So, it was good to finally catch a few breaks, and we were able to capitalize on them.”
In the top of the sixth with one out on the board, Pitt managed to get runners on the first and second, but thanks to Davis Albert, Post 11 turned a double play to get out of the inning.
Down to its final three outs, Pitt had one more chance to retake to lead, but Pennington induced two flyouts and then struck out Gray Alston to end the game and send Post 11 to Cherryville for the state tournament.
And the Post 11 players celebrated their achievement with a dogpile.
“It feels good. Making the state tournament was obviously the goal every time you start a legion summer,” Pate said. “This summer, we were bound and determined to play more games than everybody else. To get out and travel and play some different teams, so I thought we were more than prepared.”