FOUR OAKS — West Johnston and Bunn each used late offensive flurries to score semifinal victories Monday night and advance to the championship game of the 24th annual Johnston County Easter baseball tournament at South Johnston.
The two teams will meet Wednesday at 6. Tuesday’s schedule of consolation games was cancelled beacuse of the rain and the title game was shifted back a day at Bruce Coats Field.
In the opening semifinal, West Johnston scored seven runs in the fifth inning and five in the sixth to defeat Erwin Triton 18-8 – hitting a pair of home runs and pounding out 12 hits in the six-inning game. In the nightcap, Bunn scored seven runs over the final two innings to top Cleveland 9-5.
West Johnston (8-5) used a three-run homer from Sterling Atkinson to take a 4-0 lead and got a solo shot from Alex Mattes in the top of the fourth to tie the score at 6-6. But after two Triton runs in the top of the fifth, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 8-6.
The Wildcats responded with seven runs in the bottom of the inning, taking advantage of wildness by Triton pitchers and three errors to send 11 batters to the plate. West Johnston had two hits in the inning – both bunt singles – and also squeezed in a run as three Triton pitchers combined to issue four walks in the inning.
In the sixth, Triton walked the first two batters and hit the next batter to load the bases and West Johnston used three hits and a sacrifice fly to push across five runs and take a 10-run lead to end the game.
“We persevered and we competed and that is the biggest I want to see out of these guys,” West Johnston coach Joey Worley said. “(Triton) is a pretty good ball team. They are not 5-1 in their league (Two Rivers 3A) for nothing. We had some hits fall and we were able to come out on the winning end.
“I didn’t know for a while because we were battling.”
After West Johnston went up 4-0, Triton (10-4) jump-started its offense in the second with a leadoff home run by Tanner Ferguson. Tyler Tyndall added an RBI single later in the inning to cut the deficit to 4-2.
A 3-run Triton fourth was powered by back-to-back doubles from Austin Lee and Aaron Hedgepeth. Four hits in the fifth put the Hawks up 8-6, then the wheels fell off.
“I thought we swung the bats well enough to compete,” Triton coach Joey Miriello said. “But you can’t give a team like West Johnston that many extra outs. That is a good team that we played tonight. They got hits when they need to get hits.
“Early, I thought we competed, especially after that first inning. We got back into the ball game and had an opportunity to win but just had two very bad innings. … You just have to tip your hats to West Johnston. But there are more positives than negatives for us to take away from this tournament.”
West Johnston’s Sterling Atkinson continued a torrid tournament with a 2-for-4 night and four RBIs. In two tournament games, the Wildcats’ first baseman has gone 6-for-8 with 7 RBIs. Mattes went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in the leadoff spot and Tripp Atkinson, Sterling’s older brother, had a pair of hits and drove in a run.
Tyndall, Lee and Hedgepeth had two hits each for Triton.
In the second game, Cleveland led 3-2 entering the sixth inning. The Rams (6-10) had 10 hits over the first four innings but just three runs. They had a baserunner thrown out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt in the first inning when they scored a run on three hits and had bunt singles from its first two batters in the fourth inning only to end up hitting into a double play when Tyler Keenan was thrown out at home trying to score and Chase Jackson was caught between first and second after the out at the plate.
“We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities early,” Cleveland coach Jamie Lee said. “We probably hit the ball tonight the best we have hit the ball all year. We hit the ball well enough to score more than five runs but that baserunning mistake when we had the two bunts were a killer. We were probably too aggressive.
“But give (Bunn) credit. They had some timely hits in the sixth and seventh innings.”
Bunn (12-2), a member of the Northern Carolina 2A Conference, bunched seven hits over the final two innings.
Sophomore slugger Spencer Brickhouse led off the sixth with a double to left-center and scored on an RBI single by Christian Sledge with one out. Josh Boone followed with a double that scored Boone and Tevin Perry had an RBI triple to right field when the Cleveland tried to make a diving catch and the ball rolled all the way to the wall. The Wildcats then executed a perfect suicide squeeze play to go up 6-3.
Cleveland responded with a pair of runs, getting consecutive hits from Matt Noble, Keenan and Jackson with one out. That brought on reliever Nick Sanders, who walked the first two batters he faced, the second forcing in a run. But Sanders struck out the next two Cleveland hitters to end the threat.
After Bunn scored three in the top of the seventh to go up 9-5, Sledge came in to close it out and got the Rams in order.
“The kid who (started) for us tonight is a sophomore and he threw to one and two batters his last two outings because he couldn’t throw strikes,” Bunn coach Chris Cullom said. “All we preached is throw strikes. That’s exactly what he did and we made some key plays.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the job (starter) Logan Jackson did on the mound throwing strikes.”
Bunn finished with nine hits against Cleveland left-hander Patrick Banks, who struck out 10 in a complete-game effort.
“I thought we did a terrific job against their pitcher tonight,” Cullom said. “In a 2A conference, you don’t see many guys who throw low 80s and we did a good job of trying to back side, and we got a bunt down. We ran the bases well. We spend a lot of time in practice working on the small stuff. It’s exciting as a coach when you do it (well in a game).
“I was just really proud of my guys.”
Chase Jackson went 4-for-4 with an RBI to lead the Cleveland offense. Keenan had three hits and an RBI and Avery Dean had a pair of hits and two RBIs.
Sledge went 3-for-4 with and RBI and Boone had a pair of hits and two RBIs for Bunn.