Byerly, Mocksville win league opener

Published 8:50 am Thursday, June 2, 2016

With the Mocksville Senior Legion baseball team starving for a win, the breakthrough could not have been more timely. After starting 0-3, Post 54/174 rallied to win the Southern Division opener, 5-4 in 10 innings over visiting Kannapolis on May 24.

Mocksville was mired in a six-game losing streak dating to 2015, it was trailing 4-1 after seven and a half innings and coach Charles Kurfees’ frustration level was about to max out. Its fortunes were changed by pitchers Jalen Scott and Colby Cranfill and hitters Beau Byerly, Nolan Stanley and Brandon Lankford.

“We needed that,” assistant coach Todd Bumgarner sighed after Mocksville came up with one run in the eighth, two in the ninth and one in the 10th.

“The guys are starting to learn how to play Legion baseball,” Kurfees said. “We’ve got so many guys who have played traveling and showcase baseball. They’re good baseball players – they are – but they’ve never played this kind of baseball. This will prepare them better than anything they’ve played to get ready for college. And I think they’re finding that out.”

Byerly is not firecracker hot. He’s the next step up – lava hot. After going 0 for 2 in the season opener and sitting out game two, he went 5 for 6 with three singles, a double and a triple in a 15-13 loss to Randolph County on May 22. He continued his blazing run in the No. 8 spot against Kannapolis (0-3), going 4 for 4 with a walk, two runs and two doubles. He had a streak of five hits before getting intentionally walked in his final at-bat. The five-hit effort against Randolph was Mocksville’s first in 56 games, going back to Charlie Muchukot’s 5-for-5 outing in a 13-11 win at Stanly County in 2014.

Last summer for Mocksville, Byerly struggled in 40 at-bats. After starting strong this spring for Davie, Byerly faded into obscurity and finished at .229 (8 for 35).

“I kinda slumped off toward the end,” he said. “I was hot at the beginning.”

Byerly’s 9-for-10 tear in two games boosted his average to .750 (9 for 12). That’s nuts.

“It feels really good,” he said. “I just feel a whole lot more relaxed. That’s what I’ve been trying to do – just relax and have fun. It’s time to have some more fun. It’s a change of attitude.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Kurfees said, trying not to jinx Byerly. “I’m not commenting on that. When somebody is hot like that, you don’t talk about it. I’m superstitious.”

But Kurfees couldn’t contain his thoughts but so long. “Holy cow, have you ever in your life seen somebody that hot?”

After going 5-3 with a 2.14 ERA for Davie, Scott was strong in his first Legion start of the season, pitching eight innings, walking none and striking out nine. Two of Kannapolis’ four runs were unearned, and Scott got better as he went, retiring 11 of the last 12 he faced.

Kannapolis grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second when a single followed back-to-back errors. “If we catch a fly ball in the outfield, we wouldn’t have been in that situation,” Kurfees said.

Byerly doubled to right-center in the third and scored on Neil Hutchins’ single, cutting the deficit to 2-1. In the fourth, Kannapolis started the inning with three hits and took the 4-1 lead. Mocksville ran itself out of a potential big inning in the sixth.

Mocksville began to chip away in the eighth. Ryan Harrell walked with one out. With two outs, Paul Davenport singled and Tanner Edwards walked. Nathan Harrell grounded to short, but the ball was booted and Ryan Harrell scored to make it 4-2.

Reliever Cranfill took the mound in the ninth and was greeted by a leadoff single. He was helped out by catcher Davenport, who picked off the runner with a throw to first baseman Craig Colbourne. The next batter singled, but Cranfill responded with back-to-back Ks.

Mocksville completed the comeback with ninth-inning drama.  Byerly opened with a single to right – he tears up opposite field – and stole second. Stanley followed with a pinch-hit single to pull Mocksville within 4-3. Stanley was at first with two outs when Lankford stepped in. Boy, did Lankford ever come through, rifling the first pitch to deep center for a game-saving double.

“He’s Mr. Clutch,” Byerly said. “Brandon has been since I’ve known him, when we were 12 years old. That’s his name. I thought it was gone off the bat.”

“I was just trying to do what I could do to help my team get a run,” said Lankford, who is hitting .411 (7-for-17) with six of the team’s 19 RBIs. “It would be nice to hit a bomb for the win, but I was just trying to get a hit.”

After Cranfill faced four batters in the top of the 10th, Mocksville got a lift from Caleb Wallace in the bottom half, as he legged out an infield hit in his first at-bat of the night. Two innings earlier, he entered as a pinch-runner for Edwards. It was his fourth hit in 10 at-bats.

Colbourne drew a one-out walk, and Wallace and Colbourne advanced on a wild pitch. With runners at second and third, Kannapolis coach Joe Hubbard had seen enough of Byerly and motioned for an intentional walk.

“I saw the first pitch and laced it foul,” Byerly said. “I didn’t really expect (the intentional walk). It’s whatever helps the team win. I wanted to win tonight. It was a team effort.”

Mocksville prevailed in unconventional style. With the count 1-1 to Stanley, he was hit by a pitch. It went down as a walk-off HPB.

“Yeah, we got a hit by pitch and won the game,” Kurfees said. “It would have been great to see somebody hit one in the gap or a base hit. It would have been more exciting for the fans, but we’ll take it however we can get it.”

Lankford went 2 for 4 with a walk. Cranfill got the win with two scoreless innings as Mocksville cut the team ERA from 12.68 to 9.28.

Cranfill went 4-4 in 2014 to lead that team in wins. He went 4-3 in 2015 to lead last year’s club in wins. Now he’s attempting to do something that hasn’t been done since 1991: Lead the team in wins for three straight years. The last guy to do it was Mike Lovelace, who went 10-2, 6-2 and 7-2 from 1989-91.

Mocksville overcame Kannapolis starter Alex Rodriguez’s dominating performance. He will pitch for Wingate next year.

“Excellent pitching from both sides,” Kurfees said. “Rodriguez is good. He’s sneaky fast, man. He had good offspeed stuff and then he’d freeze you. Their relief pitching was pretty decent. I’m just glad we were able to (rally) those last three innings and win.”