By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– The Lincoln County Cardinals had to win both of their final two games Sunday to open the Area IV playoffs at home, but it didn’t happen.
Mint Hill Post 4039 benefited from two runs off a misjudged ball in center field, and the fourth-inning error was the difference as it downed Post 455 7-5 Sunday afternoon in a make-up game necessitated by the second game of Friday’s doubleheader being rained out.
A few hours later the Cardinals traveled to Monroe for their regular season finale against Union County Post 535, and ended the regular season on a high note with a 4-3 win to avoid their first three-game losing streak since starting the season 0-3.
Post 455 and Union County finished the regular season tied for fifth in the Area IV Eastern Division. The tie will officially be broken at this afternoon’s playoff seeding meeting at Cherryville, although Lincoln County took the season series by winning both games.
Lincoln County (7-11, 6-8) had a chance to finish fourth outright had it knocked off both Mint Hill and Post 535, and would have hosted Game 1 of a best-of-five series against the Western Division’s fifth-place team when the playoffs begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. But the Cardinals will travel instead to one of four locations –– Asheville, Kings Mountain, Haywood County or Cherryville –– depending on how ties are officially broken in both divisions.
“It was good to win the last one (going into the playoffs),” Lincoln County manager Bruce Bolick said. “We’re getting a little deeper in our pitching staff, which is always a good thing. We need some good pitching to advance.”
Post 4039 and the Cardinals went tit-for-tat in the early-afternoon game. Mint Hill won the opener Friday, 3-1, but the rains came just as the first game ended.
The teams decided to play the second game in Denver, and each time Mint Hill got going Post 455 answered. That is, until the fourth.
Mark Milliman’s RBI double and a sac fly by Pete Englert broke a 3-all tie in the top of the inning. James Hicks followed with a hit to deep center field, and centerfielder Nathaniel Scoggins got a bad read on the ball and came in instead of backing up.
As he retreated the ball sailed over the outstretched arm of Scoggins and rolled to the wall, allowing two runs to score and Hicks to round second. Scoggins made a perfect throw to third to gun down Hicks for the final out, but not before Post 4039 had a 7-3 lead.
Left-hander Jonah Wylie relieved lefty Matthew Kynard to start the home-half of the fourth, and promptly struck out J.T. Bowden and Bryan Seymour swinging. But the Cardinals loaded the bases on a walk by Brady Drennen, a double by Scoggins, and a hit-by-pitch to Nick Savoie to set up Justin Norton’s chances of tying it again.
Norton got half the runs home with a single, but Wylie got Bradley Hallman to fly out to end the inning.
Wylie retired the next eight he faced, a streak that was broken up by Hallman’s two-out single in the seventh. But he was forced out at second on Alex Pickeral’s fielder’s choice to end it.
Pickeral singled home a run in the second to tie it at 1, and Norton’s sac fly Hallman’s RBI single in the third made it 3-3.
Savoie was saddled with the loss. He gave up seven runs, five earned, on nine hits before being replaced by Drennen to start the fifth. The rising North Lincoln sophomore gave up two hits in three scoreless innings.
At Union County, Savoie went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs, two in a deciding three-run fifth to cap the season with a win.
Seymour and Hallman each went 2-for-3, and Scoggins added an RBI double in the fifth. Savoie’s RBI single in the first gave Post 455 an early 1-0 lead.
Paul Cochrane picked up his second win of the season while Scoggins earned the save.
Bolick said both are coming around at the right time with the playoffs a day away.