Missed opportunities end North State's stay in regionals

Greenville North State bowed out of the 11-12 Southeast Region Little League Baseball Tournament with a loss Sunday afternoon. (Photo contributed by Melissa Elpers)

By Mike Grizzard

Greenville North State couldn’t cash in its early opportunities to take control of Sunday’s elimination game in the ages 11-12 Southeast Region Little League Baseball Tournament in Warner Robins, Ga. The result was a 4-3 loss to Virginia state champion Loudoun South American and an exit from the eight-team field with a 1-2 record.

Virginia managed just four hits, but two came with two outs and produced runs, including a fourth-inning single by Griffin Burkholder that snapped a 3-3 tie.

North State, which finished with five hits, left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings and stranded two more in the fourth. All three runs came on a Will D’Alonzo homer in the fourth inning.

“You needed that big hit, and we just fell short,” North State coach Jake Allen said. “We put some balls in play, and they made some good plays. Their third baseman made one or two good plays, and they made some good pitches.

“You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities you’re getting, and I thought Virginia took advantage of every opportunity we gave them.”

North State, the District IV and North Carolina state champions, loaded the bases in the first inning on a single by D’Alonzo and two-out walks to J.J. Myrick and Marcus Byrd. James Elpers then drilled a 1-1 pitch from Evan Duy into the gap in left-center, but center fielder Shawn Arneja tracked it down for the final out.

“James Elpers, he laid into one right in the gap, and the center fielder just ran over there and made the play,” Allen said. “If that ball gets down, you’re talking about a bases-clearing, three-run inning in the first inning. But that’s the breaks you get sometimes.”

Virginia picked up a run off D’Alonzo in the bottom of the first on a one-out triple to right by Chad Yates and a two-out single up the middle by Nate Hoskins.

North State loaded the bases again in the second when Collin West drew a two-out walk, D’Alonzo was hit by a pitch and Cole Smith walked. Duy got out of the inning with the second of his three strikeouts.

Virginia boosted its lead to 3-0 in the third with the aid of a walk, a hit batter and a passed ball. Hoskins and Connor McGoldrick each drove in a run with a ground-outs.

North State answered in the top of the fourth to pull even. Matthew Conway started the rally with a walk, and West singled with one out. D’Alonzo then turned on an inside pitch and lined it over the right-field fair pole for a 3-3 tie.

Smith just missed giving North State the lead on a deep fly to right. An error and single by J.J. Myrick kept the inning going before a strikeout ended the threat.

A lead-off walk to Luke Krueger led to what proved to be the winning run in the bottom of the inning. Krueger moved up on a one-out sacrifice bunt by Duy and scored on Burkholder’s single through the legs of D’Alonzo.

North State got a one-out single from Jackson Bunch in the fifth then brought the top of the lineup to the plate in the sixth against the soft-throwing McGoldrick. D’Alonzo grounded out to second, Smith hit a fly ball to left, and a strikeout ended the game.

“At the end of the game we’re right where we want to be,” Allen said. “D-Zo hit a hard ball, and the second baseman made a good play. Cole just missed two from going out that could have changed the game.”

Virginia advances to play West Virginia in another elimination game. North State heads home after making Greenville’s second straight Southeast Region appearance.

North State won the regional last year and advanced to the Little League World Series.

“This team has overachieved,” Allen said. “That’s one thing about it. They weren’t really given much of a chance to win the district, and they won it. Nobody really thought they would win the state, and they won that. They came down here and won a game, went 1-2. This is a really strong tournament. I think the level of play was kind of shocking for some of the guys. ... The tournament down here is about as good as you’re going to find in a regional setting of anywhere in America.”

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.