MOUNT PLEASANT – Despite the final score, you’ll have to trust that the opener of Sunday’s home-and-home, day-night Senior American Legion baseball doubleheader between Kannapolis Post 115 and Concord Post 51 truly was a pitchers duel.
But Kannapolis sent 12 men to the plate in the top of the seventh, scoring eight runs on four hits and four walks, blowing open and winning an Area III, Southern Division matchup, 10-1, at Mount Pleasant High School.
Until then, Post 115’s Ryan O’Kelly and Post 51’s Parker Ross were locked in a showdown, even if a bevy of both pitchers’ outs came by way of fly balls. O’Kelly closed his end of the deal, scattering four hits and walking just one in his first victory of the season.
“I think the story of the game was just Ryan O’Kelly going out there, throwing strikes, pitching to contact, and us making plays behind him,” said winning coach Joe Hubbard. “In the seventh inning, we got a couple guys on, got a bunt down, and things just kind of snowballed on (Concord) and we were able to score a lot of runs.”
Through six innings, the few runs the patriotic programs manufactured may as well have had “Made in the USA” stickers on them. Both teams labored to use small ball in a big way in a game that was devoid of any run-scoring hits until the final frame.
Luke Nelson led off the game with an opposite-field bloop hit that dropped on the fringe of the outfield grass between third base and shortstop. He stole second and advanced to third on a groundout to first base.
With one out, Nelson took off for home on contact on Chase Orrock’s sharply hit grounder to the third baseman. Nelson scored easily as Concord conceded the run in exchange for the out at first base.
Kannapolis (6-11 overall, 2-6 in Area III Southern Division play) got another leadoff hit in the second inning, as Andrew Raffaldt laced a double down the left-field line that reached the fence on one bounce. Austin Dayvault followed with a sacrifice bunt back to the pitcher that pushed Raffaldt to third.
Right-handed-hitting Zack Aigner, who finished the game with two RBIs and three hits in three official at-bats, lifted a high fly to shallow right field. Again, aggressive base running worked in Kannapolis’ favor as Raffaldt raced in to score for a 2-0 lead.
“It was really important (to score the early runs), especially with Ryan on the mound throwing one-run baseball,” said Aigner. “Playing small ball, getting runners in position, playing baseball the way it’s supposed to be played is really important. Getting runners in scoring position where outs can manufacture runs is really important.”
Concord (10-10, 5-2) answered with a do-it-yourself run in the third inning. Post 51 didn’t have a base hit until its ninth batter, Larken Lancaster, drilled a single to the gap between left and center. Lancaster drew the focus of O’Kelly, who made a couple of pick-off throws towards first, the last one getting away from the first baseman and allowing Lancaster to move up a base.
Leadoff batter Ick Cirino advanced Lancaster to third with a line drive to center. With two outs and scoring opportunities shrinking, Cirino drew a pick-off throw from O’Kelly and intentionally got in a rundown between first and second. Lancaster scooted home before Cirino got tagged out by first baseman Bryson Bebber.
O’Kelly pitched himself in and out of a jam in the fourth. Maven Parker doubled but was stuck at second with two outs. The next two batters reached base by a hit batsman and a walk, both with two-strike counts. O’Kelly redeemed himself by striking out the final batter, one of his four for the game.
“I just had to trust what I was throwing and trust that my defense would be there to back me up, which they did, and I was able to get out of it,” said O’Kelly.
By reaching the seventh inning, Ross was well into one of his longest outings of the season. But singles by Nelson and Oakley to open the inning led Concord coach Jaymie Russ to pull his starter in favor of reliever Jack Swan.
“Parker Ross absolutely did everything-plus-10 that we asked him to do on the mound,” said Russ. “He was great. He definitely pitched well enough to win that game. We didn’t help him at all. I definitely applaud his effort.”
After Orrock’s sacrifice bunt, Kannapolis scored eight runs with the help of RBI singles by Bebber and Aigner, and on bases-loaded walks to Dayvault, Andrew Jones and Eli Hiskey. Two more runs scored on grounders to the shortstop but whose throw pulled Parker off the bag at first.
Kannapolis 110 000 8 -- 10 12 2
Concord 001 000 0 – 1 4 1
Kannapolis hits – Luke Nelson 2, Aaron Oakley 3, Chase Orrock, Bryson Bebber, Andrew Raffaldt, Zack Aigner 3, Eli Hiskey
Kannapolis RBIs – Nelson, Orrock, Bebber, Dayvault, Aigner 2, Jones, Hiskey.
Concord hits – Ick Cirino, Ray Beaver, Maven Parker, Larken Lancaster.
WP: Ryan O’Kelly (7 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 K)
LP: Parker Ross (6 IP, 4 R, 4 ER, 8 H, 0 BB, 3 K)