By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– What was already a wacky series weather-wise got even wackier Tuesday, and luckily for Lincoln County Post 455, it got things together right when it did.
Nick Savoie’s pinch-hit double started the game-deciding rally in the seventh inning, Bradley Hallman’s sacrifice fly finished it and Justin Norton was dominant across the final three frames as the Cardinals took the series by winning the decisive, rain-shortened Game 5 over Henderson County Post 77, 5-3, at East Lincoln High School.
Lincoln County, which dropped a pair at Post 77 on Monday that allowed Henderson County to tie the best-of-five Area IV American Legion baseball series at two games apiece, trailed 3-1 before scoring four in the seventh –– one-half inning before the lightning came, then the rain, and then no more baseball until the next series, which is scheduled to start today.
The Cardinals (14-11) will face Caldwell County Post 29 in a best-of-five quarterfinal series. Post 29’s Game 5 with the Gaston Braves was also called due to the rain on Tuesday. It was scoreless, so the series reverted back to a best-of-three, which gave Caldwell County the win.
Had it not been for a breakout seventh, Lincoln County’s season could have been over. Instead, it goes to Granite Falls for Game 1 of the next round.
“I’m not thinking of anything right now except I’m glad we won,” said Post 455 manager Bruce Bolick with a grin. “(Henderson County) was entirely different the second two games.”
Pinch-hitting for Darin Salter, Savoie laced a double to the gap in right-center to begin the home-half of the seventh. Randal Ortiz followed with a bunt single down the third-base line that put runners at the corners, then Clay Hodges laid down a fielder’s choice to the second baseman that forced out Ortiz.
Danny Sullivan gave Post 455 its second double of the inning, this time to left-center and scoring Savoie. Hoover then ripped a one-out single through the hole on the left side of the infield that scored Hodges and Sullivan for a 4-3 lead and forced Henderson County starter Thomas Waddell from the mound.
Nathaniel Scroggins walked, then Hallman sent a dribbling bunt down to first that allowed Hoover to score what wound up being the final run.
“Nick Savoie started that thing pinch hitting,” Bolick said. “We hadn’t been bringing them in too much the last three games.
While the Cardinals’ came alive offensively in the seventh –– they scored four runs on four hits –– they had a hard time giving Norton much support at all in the first six frames.
Lincoln County had six hits through the first four innings, yet stranded six. Post 455 went down in order in the fifth before scratching across a run in the sixth when Hayden Deal’s sacrifice fly scored Scroggins.
Norton, who struck out eight, retired the side in order in the first and didn’t let a two-out single in the second bother him. But he got into trouble in the third.
Three straight walks started the inning for Post 77 (10-17) and Austin Fisher’s two-run single gave it an early 2-0 lead.
Henderson County tagged Norton for consecutive singles to start the fourth, then the third and final Post 77 run was scored on a bizarre play where a double steal was on with runners at second and third –– presumably a safety squeeze –– but Brett Baker didn’t get the bat down. Instead of receiving the pitch and tagging out the runner, it got by catcher J.T. Bowden, which allowed Tyler Epperson to score and go up 3-0.
After that, though, it was Norton’s show. The right-hander retired eight in a row at one point and 15 of the last 18 he faced to win his second game in the series.
Norton gave up three earned runs on four hits and three walks. He also worked his way around three errors.
“(Post 77) swung the bat a lot better than they did the first two games,” Bolick said. “I guess that’s the key to the whole thing –– having an ace pitcher come back. He pitched a big game.”z