Ward wins it with walk-off hit

Published 9:43 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

After six and a half innings on June 29 at Mando Field, Mocksville’s Legion baseball team was down by two and on the brink of a familiar-sounding 5-3 loss.

It needed an answered prayer against Mooresville. With one on, two outs and Mocksville still behind by two, a comeback to snap a five-game losing streak was going to require something akin to the divine.

The stars would align, knocking the monkey off Mocksville’s back. After Blake Winebarger’s double tied the game, Nick Ward was in the batter’s box. He knows how to handle a pressure situation. In a home game on June 7 against Rowan County, he delivered an 11-10 win with a two-out, three-run, walk-off double. Against Mooresville, Ward authored another memorable finish, stroking a single to right to give Mocksville a 6-5 victory.

“It was a thriller,” coach Charles Kurfees said. “We got a win and everything’s always better when you get a win.”

Mooresville, which lost 6-5 to Cherryville on June 27 and 3-2 in 11 innings to Concord on June 28, was exasperated following its third one-run loss in as many days. It is in last place at 4-12 overall and 1-6 in the Southern Division. But this one was much different from Mocksville’s 18-6 drubbing at Mooresville on June 18. After that, Mocksville dropped five in a row.

With a first-inning hit, leadoff man Drew Martin (.430) wasted no time extending his mind-numbing hitting streak to 21 games. It’s the longest streak in 18 years; Zach Greene put together a record 27-gamer in 2000.

To say No. 3 batter Carter Foster (.432) is red hot during a seven-game hitting streak would be an understatement. He went 2 for 2 with two homers and two walks against Mooresville. In the last seven games, he’s hitting at a level that’s almost beyond description: 13 for 24 with seven homers and 15 RBIs. His 10 homers are tied for fifth in Mocksville’s 37-year history, and he has the most long balls in 27 years. Matt Marion hit 15 in 1990, Chad Triplette 14 in 1990, Matt Fife 12 in 1991, Triplette 12 in 1989, Fife 10 in 1990 and Wes Mecham 10 in 1990. Foster has joined the double-figure homer club despite playing seven-inning games (American Legion baseball changed from nine to seven innings this year). Oh, one more thing: Foster has the most RBIs (31) in six years. Connor Bodenhamer had 33 in 2012.

We’ve been saying this for a while, but here it is again: Martin and Foster are putting up numbers that rank among the all-time greats.

“Foster’s the man,” Kurfees said after Mocksville improved to 11-11, 4-5. “He can hit with the best of them. Think about Matt Marion’s record. He did that in nine-inning games deep into the playoffs. That boy (Foster) has hit 10 in seven-inning games, and we have one more game to play in the regular season. That’s pretty impressive. He made all-state at Forbush, but man, I didn’t realize he was this good of a player.”

What a game it was.

Controversy arose before the teams could get an inning in the books. In the bottom of the first, Martin singled on an 0-2 pitch and B. Winebarger was hit by a pitch. Foster ambushed the first pitch he saw, driving a homer to dead center. It should have been a three-run blast, but a run was wiped off the board. Foster playfully pushed Winebarger in the back as they approached home plate.

“The umpires said Foster assisted Winebarger, which wiped his run out,” Kurfees said. “Their coach came out fussing about it: ‘He can’t touch him. He can’t touch him.’ They called Winebarger out, so I went out to argue. I went back to the bench. (Jacob) Tutterow was quoting me the rule, so I went back out there. We got the ruling and they were wrong on that. We argued a little while and I threatened to protest.”

Mooresville stared down the hosts all night, holding Mocksville to one hit between the second and the fifth and turning a 2-2 game into a 4-2 lead in the fifth when its No. 3 batter slammed a two-run homer.

The otherworldly Foster led off the sixth with his second homer of the night, a solo shot to left-center.

Reliever Wyatt Jester worked a perfect sixth in his first inning, and he retired the first two batters in the seventh. But then Mooresville’s top of the order extended its lead. A walk and stolen base set the table and a single made it 5-3.

Mocksville came in with its pitching staff in dire straits, strung together with wire and chewing gum. After making five relief appearances but working just 4.2 innings over 21 games, Ward made his first start on the mound. He went two innings. B. Winebarger, who had only worked three innings all season, pitched the third, fourth and fifth. Jester, who has a team-high five starts on the hill, came out of the bullpen for just the second time. The seventh-inning rally evened his record at 2-2 – his first win since May 27. The trio did well, combining on a six-hitter.

Mocksville pulled a rabbit out of its hat in the bottom of the seventh. Patrick Usher led off with a single, but the next two batters went down. Mooresville kept Mocksville alive by plunking Martin with a 1-0 pitch. A passed ball moved Usher and Martin to second and third.

One game after his 18-game hitting streak died, B. Winebarger (.394) fouled off two-strike pitches before slapping one down the left-field line, a two-run, opposite-field double that tied the game at 5.

“It was a great game to watch,” Kurfees said.

Mooresville’s coach did what anyone would do in this situation, ordering an intentional walk to Foster. He had to for two reasons: One, Foster is a walking video game right now. Two, Ward was in an 0-for-9 slump over three games, dropping his average from .339 to .290. But Ward broke out in a big way, squaring up a 2-0 pitch and smoking it to right field for the game-winning hit.

“Nick’s got to protect Carter,” Kurfees said. “He’s been in a slump, but I think he’s coming out of it. Ward had the green light (at 2-0). Earlier in the inning, we were taking until we got a strike.”

While Foster reached base all four times, Mocksville got one hit from Martin (1-3, two runs), B. Winebarger (1-3), Ward (1-4), Peyton Winebarger (1-3), David Highman (1-3) and Usher (1-3).

Notes: Highman stole a base, giving him 13 of the team’s 27 steals. … Mocksville is 6-3 in one-run games.