WINSTON-SALEM — It’s hard enough to beat a good team twice.
Do it on their own field, in a ballpark suited to their strengths, with a title on the line? Well, when you absolutely, positively need that done, better call the East Surry Little League 9-10 All-Stars.
East Surry rallied from a third-round loss in the North Carolina District 2 Tournament held June 17-24 in Winston-Salem, bouncing back from that defeat to win the elimination bracket of the double-elimination tournament and earn a rematch with the Winston-Salem Nationals in the championship round. However, because of their loss to that team two days before, the Cardinals had to defeat the host team twice in order to advance.
The team became the first East Surry Little League team to claim a title during the summer, and might not be the last. The 11-12 Cardinals were playing for their district title on Friday night in a game that ended after press time. In any case, the 9-10 team has advanced to the Little League State Championship, which begins on July 8 in Forest City.
East Surry 9-10 began the tournament like a boss, clobbering Davie 12-2 on June 17 and then routing South Forsyth 9-1 the next day. However, the Winston-Salem Nationals, hosting the tournament on “The Bridge,” its home field with short fences favoring a power-hitting team, looked just as impressive in its first two games. The Nationals crushed King 13-1 on the 17th and then mercy-ruled Northwest Forsyth 10-0 the next day.
“The way the fences are at that park, it’s like 215 to center field and 200-205 down the lines,” commented one of the Cardinal parents. “When they get on the ball, it’s gone.”
On Wednesday night, the two teams finally met, and it was every bit the clash of powerhouses everyone expected. East Surry came within one out of the victory in the sixth inning, up by a run with two outs. The Cardinals actually got to a 1-2 count against what would have been the final batter, but the Nationals got a two-run double and went on to score six in the inning. Winston-Salem ended up winning the game 9-5. This gave Winston-Salem the next day off, but forced the Cardinals to play King on Thursday for the right to stay in the tournament. This proved to be no problem, but still meant East Surry had to beat the Nationals in consecutive games with no day off in between.
On Friday, the Cardinals completed the first task, beating them 5-4 and bringing the tournament down to one final day, on Saturday, June 24 at 11 a.m. The last game was almost anticlimactic, with East Surry winning 4-1.
The state championship tournament begins with three games on Thursday, July 8 at Summey Park in Forest City. Play begins at 8 a.m. with the District 4 and 6 champions playing each other. The Cardinals represent District 2 against District 5 at 10;30, with Districts 1 and 3 squaring off at 1:30. District 7 received a bye and will face the 4-6 winner at 8 a.m. on July 9. The winners of the other two games will play at 10:30.
The tournament follows a double-elimination format, with the championship round games slated for July 13 and possibly the 14th if necessary.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.