For the third consecutive year, McDowell County Little League will represent North Carolina District 7 on the road to states.
On Saturday, McDowell’s Majors All-Stars scored early and often in a 15-1 win against the Morganton All Stars at Big League Camp in the district title game.
The easy victory capped off a strong showing for McDowell during the recent district tournament and gave the group momentum going into the North Carolina Little League State Tournament, which begins on Saturday in Kernersville.
McDowell will open the North Carolina State Tournament on Saturday at Kernersville Little League Ballfields against District 5 representative North Asheville (10 a.m. start).
The offense set the tone of Saturday’s finale.
McDowell, the designated guest team in the game, scored four times in the first inning off Morganton pitcher Bryson Powell. After getting the first two outs quickly, things went downhill for Morganton. Alex Barnes reached on a fielding error at shortstop with two outs. Barnes took second and third on steals and then scored when Zeb Street reached on an error at first base, giving McDowell a 1-0 lead.
Those errors were the catalysts to a bigger inning for McDowell. Isaac Gilliland singled up the middle to put two runners in scoring position and then Mason Brewer hit a line-drive triple that got past the Morganton center fielder to increase the lead to 3-0. Brewer eventually scored on a wild pitch during Hayden Shelton’s at bat, making it 4-0.
After being retired in order in the second, McDowell’s offense went back to work in the middle innings, blowing the game open.
A three-run third and two more in the top of the fourth padded the lead to 9-0. And then, a six-run fifth for McDowell was more than enough to kick in the 10-run rule after five innings.
The McDowell All-Stars finished with nine hits in total. Barnes went 2-for-4 in the victory, including a two-run home run to center field in the fourth. The blast for Barnes was the only traditional home run hit out of the Little League field this season in either regular-season or tournament play.
Shelton went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Dakota Aldridge, Braden Gardin and Hunter Brown, along with Brewer and Gilliland, had one hit apiece.
Morganton did break up the shut-out bid in its last at bat. Powell ripped a base hit to right-center and Grayson Owens delivered an RBI triple to center, scoring Powell. Owens attempted to complete the inside-the-park home run on the play, but was thrown out at home on a nice relay from the McDowell infield.
Other than the one run allowed in the fifth, McDowell’s pitching was again on track. Shelton tossed 2 2/3 innings, allowing no runs or hits and striking out two batters. Levi Boone tossed 2 1/3 innings, allowing a run on two hits and striking out five batters.
The winner of the state championship will advance to the Southeast Regional in Warner Robins Georgia on Aug. 2.