MOUNT PLEASANT – Facing elimination in its best-of-5 second round-playoff series, the Concord Post 51 Senior American Legion baseball team needed an act of perseverance to stay alive against Area III foe Mocksville Thursday at Mount Pleasant High.
In a game in which all but one batter between the teams’ lineups either scored a run or drove one in, and the starting pitchers each surrendered seven earned runs but still reached the sixth inning, Concord’s most determined player was its relief pitcher who surrendered the go-ahead run with just an inning to go and went hitless in four at-bats.
Evan McGee’s gutsy performance included a simple groundout that plated the winning run in the bottom of the seventh and pitching out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings – one of which he inherited – as Concord lived to play another day by sliding past Mocksville, 9-8, in Game 3.
Mocksville won the series’ first two games (by scores of 14-6 and 9-4) by exploding for a bevy of late-inning runs. That happened again Thursday in Game 3, but Concord responded this time to force Game 4, to be played Friday at Mocksville’s Rich Park at 7 p.m.
Should Concord induce a fifth and deciding game, it would be played Saturday at Mount Pleasant High.
“Our backs were against the wall,” said Concord coach Jaymie Russ. “We knew we had to win, or it’s over. I told the guys before the game we had to take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time. I thought we did a good job of getting back to what we do. We had a couple big hits …”
Concord (13-13 overall) jumped to a 6-1 advantage after four innings as left-handed starter Noah Phelps pitched no-hit ball through three frames. Post 51 lost all of that ample lead when Mocksville scored seven runs over the fifth and sixth innings.
When McGee relieved Phelps in the sixth, he inherited runners at second and third with just one out. Russ decided to load the bases by intentionally walking McGee’s first batter, Nick Ward, who had driven in a run and scored in the fifth inning.
At the time, Post 51 was clinging to a 7-5 lead, and McGee struck out the next batter, Patrick Usher. Following him was Spencer Claus, who had reached base in his previous two at-bats by getting hit by pitches.
This time, Claus did the hitting. He rapped a sharp single through the middle to knock in two runs, and when the bouncing ball got past the Concord center fielder, a third run, which was unearned, scored to give Mocksville an 8-7 lead. McGee shut down the rally by striking out the next batter.
In the bottom of the sixth, ninth batter Jake Rowden lined a two-out double to the warning track in the left-field corner and scored easily when Ick Cirino hit a first-pitch single through the middle.
McGee surrendered a lead-off single to Jacob Campbell to start the seventh. Campbell reached third via a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch. McGee ended the threat with a strikeout and a groundout.
Mocksville starting pitcher Troy Clary moved to third base to start the seventh inning and failed to squeeze Larken Lancaster’s ground ball, allowing Post 51’s leadoff man to reach base. A wild pitch from the reliever, Claus, allowed Lancaster to move up a base, and Maven Parker’s sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a base hit when no one covered first base.
Post 54/174 coach Charles Kurfees intentionally walked first baseman Brett Laws, who had already driven in two runs with two hits, including a fifth-inning solo homer.
“I haven’t been swinging it too hot lately,” said Laws, whose scoop of a double-play throw in the Mocksville fifth stopped a three-run rally. “So tonight was big for me. I took a different approach today. I didn’t try to do too much with it. It turns out less is more, so it showed up good.”
That brought up McGee with the bases loaded and no outs. McGee quickly got down a strike, then stayed alive by fouling away the next four pitches. With the Mocksville infielders drawn up, McGee knocked a hard grounder directly at shortstop Joey Szvetitz.
His throw reached home plate in time, but the relief catcher, Ward, caught it directly in line with a charging and sliding Lancaster. The impact Lancaster made with Ward’s mitt jarred the ball loose, allowing the winning run to cross the plate.
“Evan battled up there,” said Russ. “That was a great at-bat by Evan, refusing to get out.”
Lancaster drove in Concord’s first run in the first inning with a sacrifice fly. Three of Post 51’s early runs came on wild throws: two from the starting pitcher and another from its starting catcher.
Mocksville 000 134 0 -- 8 10 3
Concord 101 411 1 -- 9 10 1
Mocksville hits -- Jacob Campbell 2, Joey Szvetitz 2, Nick Ward, Patrick Usher, Troy Clary, David Highman, Will Cheek, Spencer Claus.
Concord hits -- Ick Cirino 2, Maven Parker 2, Brett Laws 2, Ray Beaver, Adam Wilkerson, Jake Rowden 2.
Mocksville RBIs -- Campbell, Ward, Usher, Clary, Szvetitz, Claus 2.
Concord RBIs -- Larken Lancaster, Laws 2, Wilkerson, Cirino, McGee.
WP: McGee (1.2 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K)
LP: Claus (0 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 K)