By RYAN HERMAN
GRANITE FALLS –– Lincoln County Post 455’s recipe for success in the first two games against Caldwell County Post 29 was to pound the baseball.
Things didn’t change in Game 3, and the Cardinals are moving on.
Post 455 had 16 hits for the third time in as many games as it won 15-6 over Post 29 on Saturday to sweep the best-of-five Area IV American Legion quarterfinal series three games to none.
The East No. 3-seeded Cardinals get West No. 3 Cherryville Post 100 –– a pair of teams that haven’t yet met this season –– in a best-of-five semifinal series that begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. at East Lincoln High School.
Post 100 finished off top-seeded Mint Hill three games to one by winning Game 4 6-2 on Sunday night.
Lincoln County (17-11) scored a total of 41 runs across its three games while holding Post 29 to just 16.
Not bad for a team that hadn’t been this far since 2007.
“We’re squaring it up pretty good. They’re a lot more disciplined at the plate, and that’s the biggest thing,” said Lincoln County manager Bruce Bolick, whose team has won four straight. “We’ve probably matured a little bit.”
Have they ever.
The Cardinals were literally on the brink of a collapse after leading their best-of-five first round series against Henderson County 2-0. Post 77 rallied back to win Games 3 and 4 to force a Game 5, and it led 3-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning when Lincoln County finally got things together.
Post 455 hasn’t looked back since.
“We just came out hitting the ball right away and just carried it through the series,” third baseman Danny Sullivan said.
Sullivan, along with the entire Cardinals lineup, has been racking up the hits since eliminating Henderson County last week.
The recent East Lincoln graduate went 4-for-5 with a walk and drove in two runs on Saturday, a day after hitting a grand slam against Caldwell County in a 14-3 win in Game 2.
Post 29 (19-10) led just once in the series –– a 4-3 advantage on Tyler Purus’ sac fly in the fifth inning on Saturday –– but it was short lived.
Lincoln County went back on top in the sixth when knocked in a pair on a base hit up the middle to go ahead 6-4.
The Cardinals added to their lead with three more in the seventh, padded it with three more in the eighth then sealed this series’ fate with three more in the ninth to reach double digits for the third straight game.
“It might have gave us some experience in not letting up, I guess,” said Bolick, referring to letting a 2-0 series lead get away last series. “It’s just maturity.”
Post 29 also helped its opponent’s cause with five errors in the first three innings as Post 455 staked itself to a 3-l lead.
While errors are oftentimes gifts given to an offense, it’s up to the bats to take advantage, and Lincoln County’s did.
Two Caldwell County errors in the first inning scored a run, and were made possible by two hard-hit balls by Sullivan and Jacob Hoover.
A misplayed ball by left fielder Trevor Beane allowed Sullivan to go to second on a single to left to start the third. After Hoover walked a fielder’s choice by Bradley Hallman loaded the bases when Sullivan beat the force at third base.
An error scored Sullivan and a sac fly by Justin Norton scored Hoover for a 3-1 lead.
Caldwell County tied it in the home-half of the third on Purus’ bloop single to left that scored Nick Horning.
Once Post 29 took its first and only lead of the series, Lincoln County went crazy in the batter’s box. Of its 16 hits in the final game, 12 came from the sixth inning on –– so did 12 of its runs.
“Lincoln just outplayed us. They hit the ball well. They did everything well,” Caldwell County manager Brandon Banks said. “They’re just a really good team.
“That’s about all you can say. They just outplayed us.”
David Scoggins fanned five, walked one and hit three in the win. He allowed four earned runs on five hits in five innings.
Post 29‘s Drew Bolick gave up six runs, four earned, on eight hits, walked three and struck out three in six innings in the loss.
All but two who stepped to the plate for Lincoln County failed to get a hit, and all but one reached base at least twice.
Randal Ortiz had a hit and scored a run, Clay Hodges scored three runs, went 3-for-5 and drove in two, Hoover scored twice, walked and singled and Hallman singled twice and scored twice.
Scoggins, who left the mound for first base and entered the lineup in the sixth, went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and drove in three runs –– all in the last two innings.
Norton had two hits, two RBIs and scored two runs, and J.T. Bowden drove in a run on a single in the seventh.
“We’re more disciplined at the plate. Some of our key people (we want) getting on base are getting on base,” Bolick said. “That’s probably the biggest thing.”
It was also a big thing for the Cardinals to erase the memory of being beaten 16-1 by Caldwell County the last time the two teams met in the regular season.
They haven’t been this far in the Area IV playoffs since 2007. Ironically enough, the team that eliminated them was Caldwell County Post 29.
Not this time.
“It’s a lot of momentum going into the next series. They’re a good team,” Sullivan said of Post 29. “They beat us 16-1 during the regular season, so we came in here with a chip on our shoulder and won three games in a row, so it feels good.”
n Game 2 –– Lincoln County 14, Caldwell County 3: Danny Sullivan hit a grand slam and the Cardinals scored six runs each in the fourth and fifth innings for the blowout win.
Sullivan went 3-for-3 with a double, walked twice and drove in four. He also scored three runs. Randal Ortiz had two hits, two RBIs and scored three times, Clay Hodges had two hits, tripled and drove in two runs, Jacob Hoover had two hits and drove in a run and Bradley Hallman had two hits, doubled and an RBI.
Starter Hayden Deal gave up two runs on four hits, struck out four and walked four in six innings in the win.