Special to LTN
VALE — The first three innings of Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A tournament was eerily familiar for West Lincoln.
Less than two weeks ago, the Rebels were held hitless for five innings by Lincolnton’s Jacob Hoover before rallying for a victory and on Thursday, Wolves starting pitcher Austin Harris had the West Lincoln bats silenced the first time through the lineup.
But the Rebels erupted for 11 runs in their final three at-bats to beat Lincolnton for the third time in as many tries this season, 11-3, to move on to tonight’s semifinal game against Cherryville at 8 p.m.
For Lincolnton (4-17), the season ends on an all-too-familiar note – hanging tight with another opponent before being undone by a big inning or two.
“The second time through (the lineup) I thought we did a much better job of getting into some good counts and getting some pitches we could handle,” West Lincoln coach Allan Chapman said. “We got the bat through the zone a little bit and got the ball out of the air.”
Jacob Hoover (3-4, run, RBI) and Bradley Franklin drove in third-inning runs to give the Wolves a 2-0 lead and J.T. Bowden’s sacrifice fly in the third inning scored Dayton Phenning, who had doubled, to increase the lead to 3-0.
At the same time, Harris cruised through the first three frames, facing just nine batters.
But the Rebels evened the score, 3-3, in the bottom of the fourth with three consecutive hits – a Brett Huff triple, Dalton Towery’s RBI double and a bunt single from Chandler Jenkins – and a sacrifice fly from Cameron High and RBI single from Nick Fisher.
After Bradley Franklin relieved Harris in the fifth with two on and no outs, Huff (2-3, three runs, RBI) greeted him with an RBI single to put the Rebels ahead. Towery (2-4, two runs, three RBIs) singled home two more runs and Fisher capped the rally with an RBI single to stretch the Rebels lead to 7-3.
The Rebels added four insurance runs in the sixth. Ethan Bumgarner singled home a run, two more scored on an error and one on a wild pitch.
“We were just trying to get to hit in good hitter’s counts and find balls we can hit, particularly fastballs,” Towery said. “Hit early, get Austin behind and hit it in the gap somewhere. That’s the way we’ve been almost all year – our momentum is really what pulls us through games most of the time.”
Alec Johnson picked up the win for the Rebels, going five innings, giving up six hits and three runs, while striking out four and not walking a batter. Jenkins tossed the final two innings of scoreless relief.
“I didn’t think he had his best stuff early,” Chapman said of Johnson. “He was struggling to find command of a couple of pitches and his velocity wasn’t what it normally is but I thought he got stronger and he probably could have finished, but with three games in three days we just wanted to get him out and get another guy a little work and try to manage our staff and see if we can be fortunate enough to play a third game.”
First, the Rebels will meet the Ironmen (11-14), 5-0 winners against Bessemer City on Thursday. West Lincoln won the first two matchups of the season, 5-0 and 3-2.
“Anytime you play Cherryville — the kids know each other, it’s a rivalry game – it’s usually close, one-run games where anything can happen,” Chapman said. “It definitely will be a challenge.”