The McDowell County Post 56 Junior American Legion baseball team evened its junior legion playoff series on Tuesday night, beating the Mint Hill Junior Legion team 3-1 at Big League Camp.
The deciding Game 3 of the series was played Wednesday night at Mint Hill. Results were not available at press time. The winner of the series will advance to the next round to play either Western Division top seed South Caldwell or R-S Central this weekend.
Post 56 looked to pitcher Justin Dula to provide leadership on the mound and he didn’t disappoint. Dula went 6 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits, striking out six batters and walking four.
Dula struck out the first four batters faced and retired the first six in order before giving up his first hit, a leadoff single to Brian Baez in the top of the third. The lone run allowed came in the fourth inning on a Brandon Moser ground out to short, tying the game at 1-1 at the time.
Mint Hill was able to get runners in scoring position in each of the last three innings of play against Dula, however, McDowell, defensively, made some big plays to pick up their pitcher.
One of the big plays came in the seventh. Down 3-1, Mint Hill had runners at first and second with no outs. Moser, who was at second, was thrown out on a steal attempt at third for the first out.
After Mint Hill got the tying run back on first for a second time, reliever Justin Davis entered and struck out Baez and Brandon Garman to end the game.
Post 56 jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a Justin Davis single to left. Then, after a Dula hit advanced Davis 90 feet, an RBI single by Ethan Hamm scored Davis to get McDowell on the board.
Then, after Mint Hill tied it in the top of the fourth, the 56ers retaliated with two of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Davis singled with one out and runners on the corners to give McDowell a 2-1 lead and then Three Young took home on a wild pitch in the next at bat to pad the lead to 3-1.
Mint Hill 5, McDowell 4 (Game 1)
McDowell had its winning streak snapped at five games on Monday night, losing 5-4 at Mint Hill in the opening game of the second round in the Area IV playoffs.
Post 56 jumped out to a 1-0 lead after one-half inning of play against Mint Hill pitcher John Tardore, with all the damage coming with two outs. Justin Davis walked on five pitches, then, Justin Dula and Ethan Hamm singled to center, loading the bases. Cyrus Black then patiently walked, scoring Davis to put McDowell in front 1-0.
The lead remained at that slim margin through the halfway point.
However Mint Hill eventually got to McDowell starter Hunter Byerly with three runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth giving them a 5-1 advantage.
Byerly gave up three consecutive doubles to begin the fourth with Brandon Moser’s extra-base hit giving Mint Hill its first lead at 2-1.
Moser came up big again in the next frame with a two-out, two-run double to center off Byerly (4 2/3 IP, 5R, 7H, 3K, BB), making it 5-1.
McDowell, down four runs going into the seventh, did put together a rally scoring three times off Mint Hill reliever Ethan Morgan.
Ben Barnes doubled to right field leading off the seventh. Chapel Matson then had a one-out single, putting runners on the corners, and Three Young walked to load the bases.
Barnes scored on a wild pitch from Morgan to get Post 56 back to a three-run deficit, and Matson scored on a ground out from Justin Davis, making it 5-3 with two outs. Dula kept the game alive by reaching on an error on the left side of the infield, scoring Young to make it a one-run game.
Unfortunately, the McDowell rally ended on the next play when Ethan Hamm grounded out to second base.
Post 56 had only four hits overall against Mint Hill’s pitching staff. Matson, Dula, Hamm and Barnes accounted for those hits with Barnes’ double in the first being the only Post 56 extra-base hit in the game.