SPARTA — The Wilkes County Little League all-stars picked up a pair of big wins on Saturday afternoon to advance to the finals of the Tar Heel League District 2 tournament at Alleghany High School.
Wilkes County held off a late charge from Watauga Blue to earn a 5-4 win and followed that up with a 9-5 victory over Hickory in the loser’s bracket finals to win its fourth-straight elimination game.
Watauga Blue game
Wilkes County overcame obstacles in its third-elimination game of the tournament to pick up the win.
First, Wilkes County (4-1) had to overcome stranding nine base runners as it left the bases loaded in the second and the fourth innings.
But in the third inning, Wilkes took advantage of runners in scoring position.
Wilkes’ Levi Sadler and Seth Lambert came into score after Payton Luffman reached on an error.
Grayson Clonch, who went 2-for-3 at the plate to pace Wilkes, pushed the advantage to 3-0 with an RBI double. Grayson Townsell plated Wilkes County’s fourth run of the inning with a single.
Watauga responded in the bottom half of the inning after Mac Norris and Beattie Hendley – the last two batters in the order — drew a pair of walks.
After Lambert struck out leadoff batter Tyler Coffey, Gavin Robertson put Watauga (2-2) on the board with an RBI single, and Merrix Oakes cut the deficit to 4-3 when he plated Robertson with a fielder’s choice.
Watauga almost tied the game after Davis Peavy attempted to reach first on a dropped third strike, but Wilkes County catcher Phoenix Blackburn threw to Clonch at first base to retire Oakes. During the sequence, Everett Gryder broke for home but Clonch threw to Lambert, who applied the tag on Gryder at home.
Wilkes’ Jacob Adams made it a 5-3 advantage in the fifth when he scored on Clonch’s fielder’s choic, but Watauga still had one opportunity to force extra innings in its final at-bat.
Garrett McIntruff singled to lead off the sixth and advance to second on a walk from Thomas Weiters and advanced to third on a pass ball during Maddix Smith’s at-bat.
McIntruff scored on Smith’s sacrifice fly to left field but Clonch, who relieved Lambert in the fifth, induced a lineout by Norris for the final out.
Clonch earned the save while Lambert picked up the win as he allowed two hits and struck out seven (despite allowing four walks) in four innings of work.
In addition to Clonch, Brady Shore also finished with two hits.
Wilkes County scored all of its runs in one inning and rode a masterful performance both at the plate and on the mound from Townsell.
Townsell led Wilkes County’s 11-hit attack with two hits and was sharp on the mound as he needed just four pitches to get through the first inning thanks to Lambert recording all of the outs at shortstop.
Townsell struck out just one batter and worked around six walks while throwing just 90 pitches in a complete-game performance.
But Hickory (2-2) got on the board first in the second with a pair of runs, highlighted by an RBI single from Brooks Brittian.
Wilkes responded back in a big way in the bottom half of the inning as it scored nine times.
The first three runs came off Hickory starting pitcher Blake Walker. Clonch scored on a wild pitch and Jackson Buchanan scored after Casey Adams reached on an error to put Wilkes County ahead 3-2.
Buchanan’s score signaled the end of Walker’s outing. Replaced by Charlie Roberts, Wilkes welcomed the righty by scoring six more times — highlighted by an RBI double from Lambert and RBI singles from Jacob Adams and Clonch to push the lead to 9-2. Blackburn also stole home in the inning.
Hickory reclaimed two of the runs in the third behind an RBI double from Devin Jenkins and RBI single from Dalton Rice.
The visitors cut the deficit to 9-5 in the top of the sixth on Roberts’ RBI single. Roberts, along with Rice and Dalton Carmichael, all finished with two hits apiece in a losing effort. Despite outhitting Wilkes 11-10, Hickory left eight runners on base (compared to six for Wilkes County).