Painful loss ends Jr. Legion’s season

Published 9:32 am Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Mocksville Junior Legion baseball team played with heart in do-or-die conditions in an elimination game on July 16 – only to have its heart torn out in the bottom of the sixth inning in a 4-3 loss to Concord on day three of the eight-team, five-day state tournament at Rich Park’s Mando Field.

“When this bunch gets between the lines, they play hard every game,” coach Tim McKnight said. “As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

While Concord lived to see another day, Mocksville finished 10-12 after a 1-2 showing in the state.

Spencer Nifong’s six mound innings helped Mocksville survive the day before. With the season on the line again, McKnight gave the ball to Joe Johnson, who seemed to relish the spotlight. He went the distance, holding Concord to four hits and one earned run while working around six walks. His defense was shaky, allowing three unearned runs.

“Yesterday Joe had the hustle play at second (in which he beat a flip to second to keep a seventh-inning rally alive), and today he busted his butt for 99 pitches,” McKnight said. “I thought he was getting squeezed but he showed no emotion. He never shook his head, never got aggravated and he kept chucking the ball.”

One day after pulling a seventh-inning rabbit out of its hat and beating Rutherford 8-5 in eight innings, Mocksville’s wild ride continued in this back-and-forth affair.

In the top of the first, Will Sherrill singled with one out, stole second and scored on Hunter Meacham’s two-out double. In the Concord first, a two-out walk was followed by a single and an error as the favorite tied it 1-1. Concord doubled and drew two walks to take a 2-1 lead in the third.

Now it was Mocksville’s turn to rally. In the fourth, Bailey McKnight reached on an error, Troy Clary singled and Matthew McKnight plated his younger brother with a game-tying single. After John Davenport reached on an error, Rylan Burton pushed home the go-ahead run with a sac bunt.

Mocksville missed an opportunity to add to the lead in the sixth. With B. McKnight on second and M. McKnight on first with one out, the next two batters were retired.

Still, Mocksville had a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. To be six outs from eliminating Concord was no small thing.

“East Rowan lost two games all year, and Concord was the team that beat them,” coach McKnight said. “So we can play with anybody.”

The agony of defeat began to develop when Concord got a one-out walk before reaching on an ground-ball error. Now, with runners at first and second, the top of the order was up with two outs. The next batter singled sharply to center. Clary came charging hard and threw a one-hop strike to catcher Meacham. His tag was a hair late, game tied at 3. The next batter singled to give Concord the 4-3 lead.

The play at the plate was bang bang.

“Troy executed it the same way we’ve told him to execute it,” McKnight said. “His momentum was going forward. … It’s a game of inches.”

He sympathized for his pitcher.

“Joe did all he could do,” he said. “Joe has to learn more offspeed – Jake and Joe – but there’s not anything else he could have done.”

Mocksville had the top of the order up in the seventh, but Jake Campbell popped to second, Sherrill grounded out and Johnson flied out.

The season was a roller-coaster ride, with Mocksville experiencing more than its share of painful losses. It was 3-7 in games decided by one run or in extra innings. It suffered its first losing season in five years (10-13 in 2012) even though it outscored opponents 5.4 to 4.5 on average.

“We had it set up with Jake pitching tomorrow,” McKnight said. “That’s been the microcosm of our season. We played our butts off. You can say a play here, a play there was the difference. But we’re not going to play perfect. We battled and we didn’t make it easy for those guys.”

Mocksville outhit the winners 5-4. Sherrill (1-4), Johnson (1-4), B. McKnight (1-2, walk, double), Clary (1-3) and M. McKnight (1-2, HBP) had the hits.

Catching is a taxing position any time, especially in sweltering heat. Meacham handled the duties behind the plate in all three games.

“He’s a rock back there, and he plays football, too,” McKnight said. “I asked him today: ‘Are your legs OK?’ He said: ‘They’re alright.’”

The beauty of sports is there is always a next season.

“You can’t ask any more out of this group,” McKnight said. “We gave up at least a year to pretty much every team we played. Every one of them except my son Matthew will be eligible next year (for Junior Legion), and I want this bunch back. I told you all year we’re a year away. We need to get a little deeper.”

Concord won the season series 2-1. Concord won 5-3 in eight innings on June 4, and Mocksville won 9-4 on June 27.