Greenville All Star James Sawyer warms up between innings in Game 1 of the 2018 Tournament of State Champions at Elm Street Park July 28, 2018.
By Mike Grizzard
Although he is just 11 years old, James “Sawyer” Sawyer already has found himself in quite a few pressure-packed situations. That’s why manager Brayom Anderson knew there was no one better to send to the mound on Saturday as Greenville Tar Heel opened Tournament of State Champions play.
Sawyer combined with Parker Watson and Jack West on a two-hit shutout and also drove in a pair of runs as Greenville shut out Goodlettsville, Tenn., 5-0 on an overcast and muggy morning at Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park. Aside from a couple of miscues on the bases, Greenville, the North Carolina state champion, played a flawless game as it seeks to keep the ages 9-11 TOSC trophy at home for the second straight year.
Greenville faces Virginia at 12:45 p.m. Sunday and Georgia at 6:15 p.m. Monday to wrap up pool play. An opening victory puts the local team in prime position to advance to the semifinals.
“That’s exactly what we wanted to do coming into this tournament,” Anderson said. “We played a super clean game. We hit the ball. Our pitchers all responded well. … It was scripted perfectly, and it worked out perfectly.”
Sawyer was lifted after throwing 40 pitches in two innings, keeping him eligible to pitch on Monday. He allowed a pair of hits, struck out two and walked one. Watson worked two perfect innings, and West retired six in a row after a lead-off walk in the fifth.
Tennessee managed just four base runners, and none advanced past first base. The shutout was the seventh for Greenville Tar Heel in 10 postseason games.
“We didn’t have to burn anyone," Anderson said. "We’ve got Sawyer back in a day, one day rest. Jack West, one day rest. Parker to start (Sunday), and we’ve got everybody else."
Sawyer played a vital role in Greenville winning the ages 8-10 TOSC last season, picking up the win in title-clinching games in the district, state and TOSC. He recorded a pair of wins over rival North State in the district tournament this year, then was a part of two shutouts in the state tournament, including a 10-0 win over Wilson in a do-or-die game.
Sawyer stepped on the mound Saturday after winning Friday night's home run derby during the skills competition and looked at ease in front of the hometown fans.
“I know with our defense there’s really not any pressure on me,” Sawyer said. “I know if I just throw strikes, and if they were to hit it, they’d get it. The Lord has blessed me with angels around that mound.
“I couldn’t have done this without Jesus on my side. All this, we couldn’t have done it without Jesus.”
A 1-0 lead before Sawyer delivered his first pitch helped put him at ease Saturday. Ryker Butcher reached with one out on a perfect push bunt past the mound. Davis Bradley was awarded first when a Watson Storey fastball grazed his jersey.
Sawyer followed with a fly ball to deep center that fell in when Cooper McCandless retreated too far. Bradley hesitated at first and was forced out at second, but Butcher hustled home for a 1-0 lead.
The early advantage gave his team a confidence boost against a Goodlettesville program sending an unprecedented seventh team to the TOSC, Anderson said.
"Any time you can take a team like Tennessee, who is a good team and historically has come in here and handled themselves well, any time you can get something like that going and get that team rattled a little bit, it pays dividends," Anderson said. "It puts a bug in the pitcher’s head, it puts a bug in the infielder’s head. It’s big to do that."
Greenville tacked on a run in the second when Watson roped the first of his two doubles and scored when Christian LoPresti got caught in a rundown after reaching on an error.
A two-out single by Bradley and a double by Sawyer boosted the lead to 3-0 in the third. Sawyer scored on a throwing error.
A two-out double by Butcher and an RBI single by Bradley gave Greenville a 5-0 lead in the fifth.
West then preserved the shutout, aided by nice defensive plays by Bradley and Watson. That only adds to the momentum heading into Sunday's game, Bradley said.
“It just sets a tone for our team, shutout first game," he said. "They’re a really good team, and just feels really good to shut out a team. All of our pitchers just came together to complete the game 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.