Shortstop Nate Gardner played a key role for Post 81 in its victory against Randolph County Post 45. (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal file photo)
RAMSEUR – It felt like an important game for Eastern Randolph Post 81 in the American Legion rematch with in-county rival Randolph County Post 45.
The outcome seemed huge as well.
“It’s big for Post 81 and Eastern Randolph district,” said center fielder Brody Gardner. “We don’t do it very often.”
That’s because Post 81 pulled off a 15-6 victory Tuesday night at Craven Stadium.
This was no sure-thing result. A nine-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning snapped a tie and completed an impressive comeback.
The result avenged a loss from a week earlier.
“It’s always nice to beat a rival,” Post 81 pitcher / center fielder Luke Thomas said. “They’re really good. They’ve got hitters all over the place. They got us the first time. It’s nice to put no doubt about this one (with the huge sixth inning).”
Post 81 head coach Nate Cockman said it had been at least five years since Post 81 won a game against Randolph County.
“That’s something about our guys, they know it doesn’t take a lot to show effort,” Cockman said. “I think our guys felt like they had more to prove.”
It could be the kind of boost that Post 81 (5-6, 2-1 Area 3) can use to create momentum. Because of evolving player availability, Cockman said his lineup has been different for every game.
“We started off a little rough,” Gardner said of the season. “This opened our eyes that we can play with just about everybody.”
Post 45 (6-3, 1-1) is traditionally one of the strongest teams in the region and that might prove to be the case again.
Randolph County won 8-7 against Eastern Randolph on May 31 on Josh Meadows’ game-winning hit in a game played at Southwestern Randolph High School, which Post 45 used as a temporary home field during McCrary Park renovations.
Tuesday night’s nine-run uprising began with three runs scoring without the benefit of a hit. Then Karson Rickman, Matt Murchison and Nate Gardner all drove in runs with singles followed by Thomas’ two-run single amid more Post 45 miscues.
“It’s pretty exciting to beat these guys,” said catcher Parker Evans, a second-year player with the club.
Post 45 led 6-2 through five innings, aided by Blake Marsh’s opposite-field home run down the left-field line in the fourth.
Eastern Randolph prevented more damage in the fifth, in part because Post 45 speedster Adam Cole reached on an infield single but was erased when he was thrown out by Evans attempting to steal second base.
Post 81 pulled even with a four-run fifth, with TJ McGraw hammering a two-run homer and Brody Gardner following with a solo shot. Rickman’s double tied the score.
It also marked the Post 45 debut for Braylen Hayes, who three days earlier was finishing the prep portion of his career on a Randleman’s Class 2-A state championship team. Hayes was the Randolph County starting center fielder and made a brief appearance on the mound during the rough bottom of the sixth.
At the plate, Hayes faced Thomas, his soon-to-be UNC Greensboro teammate and roommate three times. He went 1-for-3, with a line out to right field, a strikeout (but reached on a wild pitch) and an RBI single.
Then as a reliever, Hayes’ first task was dealing with Thomas. Two wild pitches later, Thomas reached on a walk.
Reliever Chance Terry notched the victory by working two shutout innings. Blake Marsh, the first of three Post 45 pitchers in the sixth, took the loss. Those were the same pitchers of record in the first meeting, with the results reversed.