Wilkes Junior

THE WILKES COUNTY JUNIOR LEAGUE all-stars competed in the 2019 North Carolina Tar Heel League state tournament on June 25-28 in Smithfield. Members of the team in the photo are, front row, left-to-right, Lance Bare, Zane Rhodes, Bat Boy Noah Hall, Alex Ball and Jake Lunsford. On the middle row are, Assistant Coach Scott Eller, Jared Whittington, Mason Billings, Colin Barlow, Reid Kyle, Avery Aiken, Head Coach Scotty Blackburn and Assistant Coach Randy Kyle. On the back row are, Assistant Coach Lester Barlow, Mason Lyon and Austin Blackburn.

Wilkes County’s junior league all-star team saw its run in the North Carolina Tar Heel League state tournament end earlier than it wanted to last weekend in Smithfield.

Wilkes dropped the tournament opener to neighbor Lenoir on Thursday evening 9-3 and then fell 10-5 to District 6 representative Chocowinity in an elimination game on Friday afternoon.

Scotty Blackburn, Wilkes County’s head coach, felt the team played well in spurts, but just couldn’t put it together for a full game.

“I felt like at times, we beat ourselves over the weekend but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” said Blackburn. “We played good for a few innings in both games and then could not make the routine plays — we had plenty of opportunities to win.

“The bottom half of the order batted pretty well while the top half didn’t and that hurt us over the tournament.”

The lower half of Wilkes’ order certainly had success against Lenoir as it went 4-for-12 at the plate with a pair of doubles.

Austin Blackburn went 2-for-3 with a double and scored Wilkes’ run in the fifth inning. Mason Lyons, who finished 1-for-3, also doubled.

Alex Ball plated Blackburn with an RBI single.

Wilkes had a chance to cut into Lenoir’s lead in the sixth when Reid Kyle, Jared Whittington and Avery Aiken hit consecutive singles to load the bases with nobody out. Like Blackburn, Aiken also finished with two hits.

But all three runners were left stranded as the next three players struck out to end the inning. Wilkes stranded seven runners in the ball game.

Wilkes County jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after two innings behind run-scoring base hits from Lyons and Blackburn.

Against Chocowinity, Wilkes scored twice in the first but trailed 6-2 after four-and a-half innings.

Wilkes County made it a 6-5 game in the bottom of the fifth, headlined by an RBI single from Mason Billings, who went 3-for-4 at the plate.

Aiken, who finished 2-for-4, added an RBI base hit.

But Chocowinity put the game away with a bases loaded hit off Lyon, who came on to relieve Kyle on the mound in the sixth inning.

In addition Billings and Aiken, Whittington, Blackburn and Zane Rhodes added base hits in the game.

Notes: Since joining Tar Heel League prior to the 2014 season, Wilkes County has made the state tournament every year except for one. That was in 2018 when it won the North Carolina Babe Ruth League-West championship and advanced to the Southeast Regional tournament. Johnston County-South won the Tar Heel League state title for junior league on Sunday when it defeated Jamesville 13-1.

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