Greenville Tar Heel All Stars prepare to take the field before the TOSC championship game.
By Mike Grizzard
Greenville Tar Heel rumbled into Wednesday’s ages 9-11 Tournament of State Champions title game with the edge of the home field and the home crowd. It just didn’t have enough left in the tank to cap off another memorable summer.
Thin on pitching and running on fumes after playing three games in 18 hours, the North Carolina state champions sputtered early against Georgia state champion Smyrna and fell 15-4 before a large and enthusiastic turnout at Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park.
The same setting saw Greenville Tar Heel teams seize both the ages 8-10 and 9-11 TOSC titles last year. Nine members of the ages 8-10 team helped compose this year’s 12-player 9-11 roster in search of a repeat.
Greenville showed its resiliency in both the state and TOSC tournaments, bouncing back from a loss in each to reach the championship games. In the state tournament in Wilson, Greenville fell to Wilson City Little League in the winners’ bracket finals, then reeled off three straight wins to claim the state title and earn a spot in the eight-team TOSC field.
In the rain-plagued TOSC, Greenville opened with a 5-0 win over Tennessee before dropping a 9-8 heartbreaker to Virginia. With a jumbled schedule due to several weather delays, Greenville faced a daunting task to reach the finals but met the challenge by shutting out Georgia 6-0 late Monday night, then knocking off Tennessee 8-1 Tuesday morning and Virginia 8-3 on Tuesday afternoon.
Georgia advanced to the championship with a 12-2 win over South Carolina in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Greenville’s long road built momentum and confidence but left decimated its pitching in the championship -- ace James Sawyer, Max Mason, Davis Bradley and Derrion Geddis all were unavailable Wednesday due to pitch count rules.
Right-hander Parker Watson got the start but did not make it out of the third inning, piling up 66 pitches before being relieved by lefty Jack West. Georgia finished with 10 hits but also benefited from four walks, three hit batters and an uncharacteristic rocky day in the field by Greenville’s defense, which committed six errors.
Right-hander Connor Mason turned in a complete-game effort for Georgia, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out one. Three errors from his infield cost Mason two runs in the first, but the defense solidified from there.
Georgia, spurred on by a vocal following decked out in blue on the third-base side of Stallings Stadium, served notice early that it came ready to put up more of a challenge than in its first meeting with Greenville.
Braden Lightsey lined Watson’s second pitch to left-center for a single, Joel James walked and Peyton Robidoux dropped an opposite-field single into left to load the bases with no outs. Watson struck out cleanup hitter Robert Hicks, but Alex Johns reached on a slow roller past the mound to drive in a run. A single to left by Kyle Wright boosted Georgia’s lead to 2-0 before Watson limited the damage with an infield pop and a strikeout.
Georgia’s shaky defense in the bottom of the first enabled Greenville to pull even with a pair of runs, but the hometown team could not keep pace after Georgia put up three more runs with the aid of two Greenville errors in the second.
Hicks came up with the bases loaded for the second straight inning and delivered a sacrifice fly. A terrific sliding catch by Mason, who ranged far from his second base position to the right-field foul line, ended the inning.
Two walks, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly by Lightsey produced another Georgia run and a 6-2 lead in the third. Three errors and a third-strike wild pitch contributed to three more runs in the fourth.
With the game already well in hand, Georgia sent 11 batters to the plate in the sixth and tacked on six runs.
Greenville didn’t exit quietly, scoring a pair of runs on an RBI single by Quinn McCaffrey and a sacrifice fly by Matthew Aldridge. A fielder’s choice grounder to third sealed the win.
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.