Only one team stood in the way of the Wilkes County Midget League all-stars from advancing to the Tarheel League state tournament.
That team was the Hickory all-stars whom Wilkes had already faced in the opening round, falling 6-5 just a week ago. Hickory completed an undefeated run through the bracket leading them to the finals to face Wilkes who had to win-out through the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament to set up the re-match.
Similar to the previous game, the score was decided by one lone run.
Wilkes County (3-2) came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth for their final at-bat trailing Hickory 4-3. Hoping for some late-game heroics, Wilkes had the meat of its lineup coming to the plate with the two, three, and four hitters due up.
Hoping to produce the rally, Eli Bare stepped in and sent a hard groundball through the second and first base gap for a leadoff hit, putting on the tying run. Trey Hutchison kept the rally alive with a hard groundball through the opposite hole in the infield, third and shortstop, to put the would-be winning run on base with no outs, forcing a mound visit from Hickory’s coach.
With two on and no outs, Mason Cardwell hit a high fly-ball just into the grass of the outfield behind first base. Hickory’s Wyatt Everman made the play of the game, making the catch while on the move and firing to third where Wilkes’ Bare elected to tag up from second in hopes of moving the tying run closer. The first baseman fired a laser to third ahead of Bare’s slide, doubling him up and taking the momentum away from Wilkes.
Hickory’s Harper Hendrix then forced Camden Wayne into a game-ending groundout to second, allowing Hickory to hold onto the 4-3 win, and eliminating the Wilkes all-stars from the tournament.
The rematch started off the way it was expected, with strong pitching and solid defense as it was scoreless through the first two innings.
In the opening at-bat, Hickory had a chance to get the early lead with two runners on base with no outs. Cardwell, pitching for Wilkes, seemed to settle in after giving up back-to-back singles and put the next three batters out, two by strikeout, to get out of the jam.
Hickory (4-0) was able to draw back-to-back walks to open up the top half of the third, forcing Wilkes to make a pitching change, bringing in Jake Lambert. Hickory adjusted quickly as J.B. Young lined a single up the middle to score the first run of the game.
Lambert responded with a strikeout, but hit the next batter to load the bases. Hickory’s Zach Rose hit a groundball back to the mound where Lambert fielded and threw home, but the ball popped out of Cash Wilmoth’s glove at the plate allowing Hickory to score and go up 2-0.
Wilkes managed to hold off any further damage as Lambert struck out and forced a groundout to the next two batters, respectively.
Hickory added another run in the fourth on a single from Matt Hendricker to extend the lead to 3-0.
Wilkes County was unable to get anything going through three innings, as Hendrix held onto a no-hitter up to the bottom half of the fourth. However, Wilkes finally broke up the no-hit bid and took some momentum as Lambert singled with one out through the gap between third and short.
Bare hit a shot to right field in the next at-bat, but the right-fielder couldn’t hang on as he dropped the ball, as Lambert flied around to score giving Wilkes their first run of the day. Hutchison kept the rally going with a liner to left field bringing in Bare from second as Wilkes trailed 3-2 after four innings.
The two teams traded runs in the fifth inning to keep Hickory ahead one run, 4-3. Hickory scored off Hendricker’s single for his second hit and second RBI of the game, while Wilkes scored on Eli Shepherd’s infield single.
Hickory loaded the bases in the top of the sixth with one out in hopes of adding to their lead, but Lambert denied the opportunity with back-to-back strikeouts to keep Wilkes County within striking distance.