FOUR OAKS — West Johnston scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to pass Bunn for a 6-5 championship victory in the Johnston County Easter Invitational Baseball Tournament Wednesday night at South Johnston.
Down to their final out, the Wildcats put together a string of good at-bats that started with a Dylan McLamb double down the left field line to score pinch runner Tre Frederick.
Back-to-back walks ensued, including a key 14-pitch at-bat from Jayce Stephenson to load the bases before a pair of infield singles brought home the second tournament victory in four years for West Johnston.
Alex Mattes hit a slow roller down the third base line but was able to race to first base with no throw attempted while McLamb crossed home plate to bring the score to 5-4.
Wildcats third baseman Michael Blevins follow suit with a slow grounder to short and beat the throw to allow Thomas Coggburn to tie the game, but when the throw got past Bunn first baseman Spencer Brickhouse, Noah Liles raced home for the winning run.
“I told them before we went into that last inning that they needed to believe that we were going to win this because I believed we were going to win it,” said West Johnston coach Joey Worley. “I knew we had the right people going up and I knew if we got to Mattes and Blevins, we had a real good chance to win.
“We got some great at-bats to get us the win.”
Bunn, the only 2A team in the eight-team field, looked to take control in the middle innings as it put together two two-run innings to take the lead.
Bunn received a somewhat surprising outing from reliever Conner McKeithan. Other than a two-run double from West Johnston’s Sterling Atkinson, who was later named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, McKiethan, in his first varsity action, kept West Johnston off balance for the better part of four innings.
“When you’re the 2A school, you’re supposed to come over here and kind of get your butt beat, but all for except one inning, I feel that we competed very well,” Bunn coach Chris Cullom said.
Bunn, who earned a spot in the title game with wins over 3A teams Cleveland and South Johnston, took the lead over the 4A Wildcats in the fourth inning on a Rafael Ortega RBI single and an unearned run. They added two more in the fifth on another West Johnston error and a wild pitch to take the 5-2 lead that lasted until the final at-bat.
Brickhouse, Nick Sanders and Christian Sledge earned all-tournament honors for Bunn while Thomas Dean won the Pat Smith Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.
“If they would have told me we’d be 12-3 to start the season and finish runner-up to a 4A team, not the way it ended, I probably would have taken it,” said Cullom. “I’ve been very proud of my kids.”
Dalton Mundy earned the win for West Johnston with four solid innings of relief pitching. Mundy joined teammates Tripp Atkinson, Mattes, and Stephenson on the all-tournament team.
Atkinson took home the John Stott Memorial MVP award and the Andy Pleasant Most Hits Award, going 7-for-11 in the three games and driving in 10 runs.
“He has just come up clutch for us big-time,” Worley said of Atkinson. “He’s coming into his own swinging the bat.”
Clayton halts losing streak
Clayton ended its first losing streak of the season with a 9-1 win over Smithfield-Selma in Monday’s consolation round. Blake Joyner and Austin Smith homered for the Comets in the win.
Clayton blew open the game with a six-run fourth inning. Joyner and Smith both had two-hit days for the Comets, who beat an SSS team that handed Clayton a 1-0 loss early this season.
Cole Hinnant got the win with six innings of five-hit ball.
Cody Simonson drove in SSS’s only run of the contest. The Spartans’ Francil Ramirez was 2-for-4 on the afternoon.