Brent Gates was not lacking in motivation when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line.
Gates was batting against Cherryville Post 100, the team he played for until about three weeks ago.
Also in the opposing dugout was Gatesâ€™ good friend and West Lincoln High School teammate Dylan Anthony.
So Gates may have been the happiest player on the field Tuesday night at Lincolnton High School after he delivered the winning hit in Denverâ€™s 7-6 victory over the defending state and Southeast Regional American Legion champions.
With one out, runners at second and third and Post 455 trailing 6-5, Gates slashed the first pitch he was thrown down the third base line, just outside the reach of Post 100 third baseman Brock Alexander.
The ball trickled into left field for a two-run single. Colby Burgin, who opened the inning with a double into the gap in right center, scored the tying run, and Shane Brackett, who reached on an error, scored the game-winner.
Just before Gates came through, Will Fox moved Brackett into scoring position with a bunt sacrifice.
Gates, who was 2-for-5 for the game, got his winning hit against Post 100 reliever Justin Keever.
â€œIt was a fastball. He (Keever) had been throwing it on the first pitch the whole game. I kind of sat on it and hoped he would again, and he did,â€ said Gates, who joined the Denver team after getting his release from Cherryville Post 100 coach Bobby Reynolds.
â€œI had the choice to stay there and catch some or come here and play all the time,â€ said Gates of his move from Post 100 to Post 455.
â€œThis feels real good. My buddy (Anthony) and I have been on the same team since T-ball, and today is the first time we have played against each other. So it was a pretty big game for me.â€
It was a â€œpretty big gameâ€ for all the Post 455 players, who stormed the field for a joyous victory celebration.
â€œThe kids were real competitive and up for the game,â€ Post 455 coach Bruce Bolick said. â€œNeither team played well defensively, but our kids showed a lot of spirit and hung in there. Iâ€™m happy for them.â€
For Denver, which has been eliminated from playoff contention, the win was the second of the season (2-14 division, 2-14 overall).
Cherryville, which entered the game in seventh place in the Eastern Division of Area Four, fell to 7-10 in the division and 10-11 overall.
Each team committed five errors, and the game-winning run in the ninth was unearned.
Denver, which outhit Cherryville 12-7, was led by Alex Loftinâ€™s 4-for-4 with two runs scored and a RBI. Burgin added a pair of doubles in five at-bats, and DH Tyler Howard went 2-for-3 with a RBI.
Steven Hoyle was the only Cherryville player with more than one hit (2-for-5, RBI).
Cherryville broke a 5-5 tie in the seventh when Evan Wise led off with a double to deep center and scored on Daniel Schronceâ€™s one-out single off the glove of second baseman Kyle Baker.
Keever, the third Post 100 pitcher, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth but ran into immediate trouble in the ninth when Burgin doubled on an 0-2 pitch.
Loftin, who relieved starter Chris Hogue in the sixth, picked up the win.
â€œI thought our pitchers held down Cherryville hitters pretty well,â€ Bolick said.
The teams meet again Thursday night at 7 in Cherryville.
Denverâ€™s final home game is tonight at Lincolnton against Steele Creek. Cherryville is in action today against Raleigh in an exhibition doubleheader at home. The starting time is 6 p.m.
by Mike Powell