Juniors win area title

Published 9:22 am Thursday, July 26, 2018

Despite losing game one in the best-of-three series, the Mocksville Junior Legion baseball team clawed to its first Area III championship in 11 years.

Mocksville pulled out a 6-5 barnburner in game two, and in game three at Randolph County’s McCrary Park on July 15, Post 54/174 rallied in the fifth inning and blew past Randolph 11-4.

It’s the second area title in Mocksville’s 16-year history, joining Charles Kurfees’ 2007 team.

“Once we got them down tonight, we kept them there,” coach Tim McKnight said. “If we keep playing the way we’re playing (in the state tournament), you just never know.”

With Mocksville (22-8) playing an eighth game in 11 days, McKnight was down to few pitching options after his starter. Hallelujah for John Davenport, who devoured all seven innings. He pitched a six-hitter with three walks and eight strikeouts.

His value down the stretch cannot be overstated. He missed the first 19 games with an injury. His season debut wasn’t until June 30. He didn’t enjoy his first win as a starter until July 10. Now cut to Area III’s decisive game: He faced the minimum in the first, fifth and sixth and bumped his record to 3-1 with his first complete game in four starts.

“He kept them offbalance and did a great job,” McKnight said after Davenport’s 99-pitch effort. “He’s back to form to where he was (before the injury).”

The offensive star was No. 3 batter Ethan Wilkins, who went 4 for 5 with four runs and two RBIs as he authored the first four-hit performance of the 30-game season.

“He came up huge,” McKnight said. “Big hit after big hit after big hit.”

The early momentum was on Mocksville’s side as Hunter Meacham’s first-pitch single scored Troy Clary and Joe Johnson’s sac fly plated Wilkins.

But while Mocksville’s offense was quiet in the second, third and fourth, Randolph (23-9) had charged to a 3-2 lead going into the fifth. That’s when Mocksville’s bats found another gear, with help from Randolph’s control issues.

In the fifth, Beaven Arey’s fullcount walk was followed by Clary’s single to right-center. “We were going to bunt,” McKnight said. “They were crashing their second baseman, so I took the bunt off.”

Blake Little’s bouncer to short tied the game and Wilkins’ single to left vaulted Mocksville ahead. After Meacham walked, Johnson singled to center to give his team a 5-3 advantage.

All the suspense evaporated during Mocksville’s five-run sixth. It started with Arey reaching second on an error. Two outs later, seven straight batters reached: Wilkins on a single, Meacham on a double off the top of the left-field wall, Johnson on a walk, Josh Westmoreland on a hit by pitch, Bailey McKnight on a walk, Riley Cheek on a walk and Arey on a single in his second at-bat of the inning.

When the smoke cleared, it was 10-3. The villain from 2015 had been slain. (Mocksville strutted into the ‘15 playoffs with a flashy 19-3 record, only to lose in two games to the same Randolph program.)

Besides Wilkins’ magnificent showing, Mocksville was powered by Meacham (2-4, two RBIs, walk), Clary (1-4, two runs, walk), Johnson (1-3, walk, two RBIs), McKnight (two walks) and Arey (1-3, two runs, walk).

Notes: As Mocksville took a four-day break before the state tournament, the robust numbers for Johnson (.416, 40 hits) and Meacham (.414, 39 hits) were nearly identical. … Wilkins (.350) and Westmoreland (.348) were third and fourth in average. … Wilkins and Clary pushed their hitting streaks to six and five games, respectively.