Jr. Legion clinches conference

Published 9:37 am Thursday, July 2, 2015

If it seems like the Mocksville junior legion baseball team always has a rally up its sleeve, always pulls out the close games, well, there’s a reason for that.

It never fails in tight-game, pressure situations.

Mocksville overcame a 3-0 deficit in a 5-4 win over Mooresville. A game against Lake Norman was tied 2-2 after six innings. Mocksville erupted for a 6-2 victory.

With the regular season nearing the finish line, Mocksville is floating on clouds at 19-2 overall and 10-2 in the seven-team conference. It has eight consecutive victories in a streak that began June 16 – this following win streaks of six and five. The win over Mooresville clinched the conference championship for Mocksville, which stands in a tie for fifth for wins in a season.

The top teams from the past: 35-7 in 2007, 30-12 in 2006, 29-8 in 2003, 27-14 in 2004 and 19-13 in 2008.

The 2015 squad won’t break the record for victories, but it has a chance to set a new standard for winning percentage. At .904, it has the No. 1 percentage at the moment. The 35-win club in 2007 won at an .883 clip.

Mock 12, Kann. Reds 2

Two days later squeaking past the Kannapolis Reds 2-0 on the strength of Henry Stone’s complete-game pitching and two-RBI hitting, Mocksville buried the Reds with a virtual flawless performance on June 22.

It outhit the hosts 14-6 and only committed one error. “We played about as well as we can play,” coach Tim McKnight said. “We were clicking on all cylinders.”

Mocksville wasted no time setting the tone. Jake Barneycastle, Ben Summers and Stone sparked a three-run top of the first with singles. Jesse Draughn, Ridge Sanders and Matthew McKnight helped the uprising with walks.

A six-run fifth blew it wide open.

Sanders (2 for 3), Summers (2-4), Stone (2-4), Cody Smith (2-4) and Guy Brunelli (2-4) had multiple hits. Even when McKnight went to his bench, the line kept moving. Matthew Glass pinch hit in the seventh and promptly singled.

Mocksville got a major boost from starting pitcher Carson Whisenhunt, who appeared on the mound for the first time all year. An injury kept him from pitching for North Davie and he got the ball here on a 60-pitch count. Pitching depth is essential when you play so many games in a week, and McKnight was delighted to see the rising freshman come off the DL and respond with 3.2 innings and one walk. Both runs off him were unearned.

“He ran into some trouble in the fourth, he had to come out and he didn’t get the win,” McKnight said. “I wanted him to get the win. But he was up to 66 pitches and I couldn’t let him go any longer. In the first, second and third innings, he cruised. He gave us a big shot in the arm.”

Corbin Jefferson picked up the win in 2.1 innings of scoreless relief. He retired seven of eight batters, but he rolled an ankle between innings and exited. He wound up on crutches the next day. So Sam Heafner recorded the final three outs.

Mock 5, Carson 1

Although it was a nonconference game, Mocksville added a quality win to its resume with a convincing home win over Carson on June 23.

“Carson had worn out Mooresville twice,” McKnight said. “They rolled in here pretty high. It was a big win because we played some guys that hadn’t been getting a lot of time.”

Brycen Huffman came out of nowhere to impress on the mound. In five innings, he allowed four hits, one unearned run and walked one. Mocksville’s three-run second enabled Huffman to get the win.

“Brycen is a good little pitcher,” McKnight said. “I haven’t used him much. He hadn’t thrown in a while. He offspeed-ed them to death. They never did make an adjustment. They did get to him in the fifth and hit the ball hard. Other than that, they didn’t do any damage.”

Though Ben Summers debuted on the hill in the sixth, he looked quite comfortable. He worked two hitless innings and faced the minimum. He issued a walk in the seventh, but a comebacker led to a Summers-to-Cody Smith-to-Brunelli double play to end the game.

“Since the Mooresville game (on June 16), we’ve righted the ship,” McKnight said.

Mocksville pounded out 10 hits to Carson’s four. Barneycastle went 3 for 4 and Smith had two hits. Mocksville got one from Stone, Brunelli, Glass, Landon Bandy and Sanders.

Mock 4, Lake Norman 1

There wasn’t anything pretty about a home win over Lake Norman, except the outcome. Lake Norman is winless, but it gave Mocksville a hard time on June 25. It was 1-1 going into the bottom of the fifth.

“It was a trap game,” McKnight said. “In the fourth we gave up an unearned run and I got pretty aggravated. It wasn’t that we played bad, we just didn’t have the normal zip and energy.

“The lefty they threw changed speeds and really kept us offbalance.”

The lefty exited after four innings. The righthander who took over was rocked for three runs, “and it should have been more,” McKnight said.

Mocksville struck for two in the fifth to take a 3-1 lead. Draughn singled and scored on Summers’ triple. Summers scored on his hit because of an error.

Summers and Brunelli both went 2 for 4 to pace an eight-hit attack. Barneycastle, Draughn, Stone and Bandy had one each.

Matthew McKnight improved to 4-0 with six strong innings. He gave up five hits, one unearned run, walked none and struck out five. Stone got the save, striking out the side in the seventh.

“When the leadoff man reached in the seventh, I didn’t take any chances,” coach McKnight said. “I went to Stone and he shut the door.”

After the win, Mocksville learned that Mooresville was forced to forfeit four wins, including the 12-2 decision over Mocksville on June 16. The infraction: It submitted its roster after the deadline. That’s why Mocksville entered the week 19-2 instead of 18-3.

Mock 5, Mooresville 4

On the long list of memorable wins, this one on June 26 ranks at or near the top, not only because of the opponent but because of the deficit it had to overcome and the stakes. Mocksville came in still needing at least one win to clinch a playoff spot (the top two teams in the conference advance to postseason play). This clinched the conference title.

Talk about making the most of your opportunities. Mocksville produced eight base runners and five of them scored.

Stone (big shock here) was vital to the outcome, which served as payback for a 12-2 loss on June 16, although the result was changed to a win by forfeit.

Mocksville staged rallies in the fourth and fifth, and Stone was involved in both. In the fourth, Mocksville chopped the 3-0 deficit to 3-2. Draughn singled and advanced to second on an error. Summers singled and the coach put up the stop sign, holding Draughn at third. Then Summers stole second. Stone’s two-run single pulled Mocksville within one.

“Stone was the man of the hour again,” McKnight said.

It was 4-2 Mooresville going into the bottom of the fifth. A three-run uprising put Mocksville ahead to stay. Bandy opened with a single and Barneycastle singled with one out. With two outs, Summers delivered an RBI single.

“Ben’s been swinging a hot bat,” McKnight said.

After Barneycastle tied it by scampering home on a passed ball, Stone provided the lead with a double.

“It seems like when somebody cools off, somebody else takes over,” McKnight said.

Summers (2-3) and Stone (2-3, three RBIs) led the way with two hits. Barneycastle, Draughn and Bandy had one apiece.

Stone had been automatic as a starting pitcher, but he showed he’s human by allowing three runs (one earned) in four innings. He walked three and plunked two. He was lifted following a one-hour-plus rain delay.

Stone would remain 5-0 because of Draughn’s clutch relief. Draughn got his first win in his first decision by allowing one run in three innings. He struck out four and cemented a 5-0 mark for Mocksville in one-run games.

“The big reason I went to Jesse is we had over an hour delay,” McKnight said. “I just wasn’t going to put Henry back out there. Jesse is a good change of pace compared to Henry, and Jesse was able to keep them offstride. He threw strikes. He got in a jam in the seventh but he made pitches when he needed to. He’s been in that situation before.”

Mock 6, Lake Norman 2

The road win on June 27 took a backseat to a scary injury in the second inning. Right-fielder Sanders and center-fielder Hunter Bowles collided violently on a fly ball in no-man’s land. Sanders was air lifted to the hospital for precautionary reasons. Luckily, he came away with no head or neck injuries. He did sustain a concussion.

“The first responder said if there’s any internal bleeding, time is of the essence,” McKnight said. “He knew who he was and where he was, but he couldn’t remember the play at all. I talked to Ridge and his parents (the next) morning. It was good news. Hopefully he’ll be cleared by this weekend. Ridge came off his feet and his neck slammed into Hunter. He was really lucky.”

The injury produced a 45-minute delay. Tied 2-2, Mocksville finally pulled away in the seventh. Evan Marshall was hit by a pitch, Barneycastle singled, Draughn walked, Summers got an infield hit and Stone hit a sac fly. Brunelli capped the backbreaking rally with an RBI single.

Whisenhunt got his second start, but he only lasted one scoreless inning because he slipped on the mound and tweaked his elbow.

Huffman answered the call, allowing two runs in 4.2 innings. Josh Tibbs, fresh from the beach, worked the final 1.1 innings – no runs allowed – to improve his record to 2-1.

Mocksville collected nine hits, including two each from Barneycastle, Summers and Brunelli. Heafner, Marshall and Stone had the others.

At 10-2, Mocksville is the runaway winner in the conference race. The Davidson County Braves and Kannapolis Reds are tied for second at 6-4. Mocksville hasn’t lost since June 14.