Heartbreaking loss puts Greenville in must-win situation

Davis Bradley connects with a pitch in the Greenville Tar Heels All Stars' 9-8 loss to Virginia on July 29 at Elm Street Park.

By Mike Grizzard

Just one out away from a stirring comeback win Sunday afternoon, Greenville Tar Heel suffered sudden heartbreak. Now the North Carolina state champions know exactly what their plight is when they return to Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park -- win or pack up for the summer.

Greenville scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning to forge a one-run lead, but Virginia state champion Loudoun County answered with two runs on a two-out error in the bottom of the inning for a dramatic 9-8 win the ages 9-11 Tournament of State Champions. Greenville, which opened TOSC play with a 5-0 win over Tennessee on Saturday, is scheduled to face Georgia state champion Smyrna at 6:15 p.m. Monday needing a win to advance to the elimination round.

Georgia and Virginia are the lone unbeatens in the eight-team field at 2-0.

“This one hurts; this one hurts,” Tar Heel manager Brayom Anderson said. “The guys fought hard and just came up short. We had it right where we wanted it, and we made one of those plays that we hope other people make. But they’re kids. They’re 11, and that’s going to happen. You just roll with it and come back and get better.”

Both teams showed resiliency and spunk in their bids to guarantee advancing out of pool play, negotiating the turf saturated by a week of persistent rain and keeping the pressure on with aggressiveness on the bases. Greenville owned leads of 5-0 and 6-4 before Virginia pieced together a three-run rally with two outs in the fifth to take its first lead at 7-6. The intense sixth featured strategic coaching moves, clutch hits and costly mistakes.

“It was a great baseball game,” Virginia manager Alan Bowden said. “Two great teams. I’m glad we came out on top. Either team could have won that game -- easily.

“I can’t say enough about the Carolina team. That’s a great baseball team. We’re very fortunate to be able to pull it out.”

Anderson anticipated a stiff challenge from Virginia, which pounded Alabama state champion Huntsville 17-1 on Saturday.

“It was a war,” he said. “That’s what we told them in the beginning; it was going to be a good game. We’ve just got to fight. You win (Monday), you start back Tuesday, and this means nothing. Would it have been nice to win? Yes. That’s why you play, to win. We just regroup, come back (Monday), play Georgia, hopefully get a W and go on.”

With starter Parker Watson in command early, Greenville appeared headed for its second straight TOSC win by building a 5-0 lead, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings and one in the third.

The two runs in the first came courtesy of three consecutive two-out hits -- a double to right-center by Davis Bradley, a single to center by James “Sawyer” Sawyer and a double to left by Max Mason. Greenville’s daring base running the next two innings rattled Virginia and helped produce three more runs.

In the second, Ethan Medhus singled with one out and moved up on a wild pitch. Jack West reached when shortstop Chase Obstgartern glanced at third after fielding a ground ball then had no play at first.

West continued to second to draw a throw. Medhus then broke for the plate and slid in safely as the throw skipped past catcher Noah Culpepper. West headed for third and scored on another errant throw.

Christian LoPresti and Mason pulled off a similar feat on the third with LoPresti coaxing a throw to second as Mason dashed home.

Greenville used a similar strategy on Saturday forcing Tennessee into three errors.

“We’re going to be aggressive no matter what,” Anderson said. “You put pressure on people, and people are people, and they’re going to boot a ball, they’re going to make a wild throw. We’re apt to doing it just like anybody else. That’s what you try to do. You just try to force the game.”

Greenville’s aggressive style has a big hand in Virginia’s four errors on Sunday.

“They’re one of the few teams that we’ve played throughout, actually probably the only team that put that much pressure on us on the bases,” Bowden said. “We usually do that to other teams, and they turned the tables on us, and it worked rather well. It got us throwing the ball around, which we usually don’t do. But at the end of the day they’re 11 years old. They’re going to make some of those mistakes.”

Virginia, in turn, took advantage of its opportunities in third to score four runs, ending a string of eight straight scoreless innings by Greenville pitching. Watson needed just 17 pitched to breeze through two innings but walked No. 8 hitter Kian Henson to start the third and threw late to second on a bunt by Joe Ross.

After a single by Liam Thyen loaded the bases, a wild pitch scored one run. A walk to Brady Yates ended the day for Watson, and Bradley walked Obstgarten to force in another run. A sacrifice fly by Justin Lee and singles by Maddox Webb and Michael Bowden drew Virginia within 5-4.

Bradley got out of the inning with the lead with the help of a sliding catch in left by Mason and nice play by shortstop Justin Grimes to get a force out at third.

Greenville extended its lead to 6-4 in the fourth on a one-out error allowing Grimes to reach, a bunt by Ryker Butcher and Bradley’s second double of the day.

Henson’s two-run single with two outs in the fifth pulled Virginia even at 6-6. Culpepper hustled home on a pitch in the dirt for a 7-6 lead.

West and Grimes started Greenville’s sixth-inning rally with consecutive singles. After a sacrifice bunt by Butcher, Bradley fought off two 1-2 pitched before rolling an RBI grounder to shortstop. Sawyer followed with a ground ball to third, but a high throw to first allowed Grimes to score.

The lead stood until two outs in the sixth. Yates, Virginia’s No. 2 hitter, singled with one out, moved up on a wild pitch and took third on a fly ball to right. Lee, who homered Saturday, received an intentional walk and took second on defensive indifference.

Webb then hit a slow roller along the third base line that Medhus fielded cleanly. His strong throw sailed a bit high and tipped off the glove of Sawyer, who stretched in an attempt to record the final out. The ball wound up in foul territory as the tying and winning runs scored.

“The top of our order is tough,” Alan Bowden said. “They scratch them out when they can, but that team we were playing is pretty tough. I was worried. I was hopeful but worried.”

Note: Time of Greenville's game on Monday likely will change due to weather. 252Buzz will post updates on game time on Facebook when available.

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.