After putting up on average close to 10 runs and 15 hits in the first three games of the North Carolina District 7 Tournament, the McDowell County Little League Majors (10-12) All-Stars’ offense came at a premium in the deciding game against Avery County.
Fortunately, the production at the plate had just the right amount of efficiency as McDowell held off Avery 6-5 at Big League Camp to take the District 7 crown and advance to the North Carolina Little League State Tournament.
In what has been a tournament full of offense, both teams grinded it out in the final game of tournament as both squads combined for just nine hits.
McDowell accounted for just four of them, but all four led to big things.
Shortstop Dawson Ray, hitting in the leadoff spot for the third consecutive game, had three singles in three at bats and scored all three times. That, plus a huge, three-run home-run from cleanup hitter Evan Kelley were the only hits allowed by Avery’s pitching staff.
McDowell, who was the home team in the finale jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Ray singled. Mason Brewer walked to put runners at first and second. Ray eventually scored with the help of a couple passed balls to put McDowell on the board.
Avery pushed across single runs in the second and third innings.
Kevin Carter singled in the third to help give Avery its only lead of the night at 3-2.
McDowell answered in the next half-inning when Nate Finley walked to lead off the frame and Ray collected his second hit of the game, giving his team a pair in scoring position.
After a strikeout from Brewer and a fly out from Alex Barnes, it came down to Kelley, who came up with what arguably was the biggest hit of the game. On a 1-0 pitch, Kelly got great extension as he delivered a three-run bomb that landed on the top bank of the field at Big League Camp, giving McDowell a 4-2 lead.
After dealing with an hour-plus delay for inclement weather in the fourth inning, both squads came back and went back-and-forth.
Avery got within 3-2 in the top half of the fifth only for McDowell to squeeze out two runs in their at bat, giving the team a 6-3 lead going into the sixth.
In Avery’s last at bat, Josh Jackson and Riley Isaacs both walked. Jackson scored on a Gavin Hughes RBI single and Isaacs crossed home plate on a wild pitch, making it a 6-5 contest.
However Avery’s rally attempt stalled with the tying run stranded at second when Brooks Berry was retired on an infield pop-up and Kevin Carter’s fly ball destined for the right-center-field gap was run down and caught by McDowell right fielder Brasen Widener to clinch the championship.
Marcus Piercy tossed four innings, giving up two runs on four hits, striking out five batters. Maverick Randolph tossed the last two innings of relief, including the crucial sequence at the end of the game.
In four District 7 tournament games, McDowell outscored the competition 45-31 but that does include a pair of one-run contests against Avery, both of them at Big League Camp.
Both Ray and Kelley had impressive series at the plate. Ray was 9-for-11, driving in three runs and scoring nine runs. Kelley finished 10-for-15, and three of those hits were for extra bases, including a pair of home runs and 10 RBIs.
McDowell County Little League has two state qualifiers coming from its 9-12 year-old baseball program this season, a first since the program was reestablished back in 2013. This year’s representation makes it a half-dozen state qualifiers since 2014.
Both teams will begin their respective State Tournaments on Saturday.
McDowell’s 9-11 All Stars will travel to Wilson to play Greenville-Tar Heel (District 4) at 4:30 p.m., while the McDowell Majors will play District 1 representative Rutherfordton on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Cherryville.