By Mike Grizzard
After dramatic one-run victories on Monday night, RE/MAX and Optimist welcomed a day to recover. Now it’s time to turn their attention to the ultimate prize in Greenville Little Leagues -- a city championship.
The two league tournament champions begin their best-of-three series at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park, followed by Game 2 on Thursday and a third game, if needed, on Friday.
Optimist capped off an impressive run from the No. 5 seed to win the North State title, holding on to nip Ross Orthodontics 7-6. RE/MAX, the No. 2 seed in the Tar Heel League, scrapped back from a 5-0 deficit and knocked off perennial power Jarman Auto 7-6 on Colin Everette’s two-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“I’ve been around baseball for a long time, and it’s one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” RE/MAX manager Cory Scott said of the Tar Heel title game as his team wrapped up batting practice Tuesday.
“Last year I got to coach the 11-year-olds all the way to the Tournament of State Champions championship, and (Monday) night Jarman Auto and RE/MAX really put on a show for those people.
“It’s really, really humbling to have 24 kids that you really care a lot about, to have them go out and give their hearts like that is something really special. It was heartbreaking and excitement all at the same time.”
Optimist secured the North State title by scoring three runs in the top of the sixth then surviving a Ross rally that put up two runs and loaded the bases before being subdued.
Manager Wayne May said Tuesday his team still had plenty of energy the day after.
“I think they’re ready,” May said. “They seemed pretty motivated today. They seemed ready to go. We’re just trying to keep them loose and let them have fun. You don’t know if you’ll ever get back here. I just want them to enjoy the moment, their families to enjoy the moment. You don’t want it to be a big pressure thing, just have fun and roll with it.”
Optimist has claimed four city championships, the last of which came in 2014 (the others were in 1966, 1972 and 1997). RE/MAX is in its first year under a new sponsor but won the crown as NorthCare in 2010.
Scott has managed the team the last eight years and anticipated making a run for the title this season with a solid core of returners with all-star experience. There also is bond that has formed among families who have siblings on the team.
“Seven years ago I drafted some older brothers and have been with these kids and these families my whole time,” Scott said. “I’ve been here eight years, and they’ve been here seven of them. They’ve been through it and seen us battle and seen us come through a city championship and seen us lose. I told them from day one that this group is very special as long as they can come together and play as a team that we had a good chance. We’re not done yet, but we’re here.”
RE/MAX (19-6) comes in a on a seven-game winning streak since ending a three-game skid on June 5. A 6-0 shutout of E.C. Auto and an 8-3 win over Carolina Windows & Doors put RE/MAX in the Tar Heel finals.
Optimist (16-9) reeled off seven straight wins before dropping the final two games of the regular season to Physicians East and Kiwanis, then knocked off Physicians East 12-1 and Host Lions 9-0 in the North State tournament.
Optimist won the only meeting with RE/MAX in the regular season, prevailing 7-4 on a three-run homer by Trey Williford with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Williford, Tyler Sparrow and Joe May give Optimist an imposing lineup of powerful left-handers both at the plate and on the mound, although May will not be available to pitch due to pitch count rules.
“They’ve got some big left-handed sticks, and they can hit, and they can pitch,” Scott said. “We’re just going to go right at them.”
Pitching depth may give RE/MAX an edge if the series extends three games. Everette will not be available, but Scott still can call on Davis Hathaway, Ethan Medhus, Max Mason, Rhettec Galaska and Davis Bradley, an 11-year-old who picked up the win Monday.
"We threw a lot of pitches (Monday) night, but we’ve got a lot left,” Scott said. “We’re very fortunate. We’ve got a lot of arms. We’ve got a lot of kids that we pitched all year. … We’re very fortunate to have six arms that we can run out there.”
May is just excited about the opportunity.
“We thought it was possible,” he said. “We went in believing and held to that all year. We have good kids inside the lines and great families outside the lines, so when you’re bringing all that together you have a chance.
“They’re an outstanding team and very well-coached. Cory’s probably forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know. We’re just going to hang in there and try our best and see where it comes out.”
Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.