Juniors win ’07 area title in dramatic fashion

Published 1:36 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

In the championship game of the 2007 Area III tournament at Rich Park, the Mocksville Junior Legion baseball team looked like it was going to lose to nemesis Rowan County for the millionth time.

Rowan, though, could not find a way to put away determined Mocksville.

In a game filled with tension from the first pitch to the last swing, Mocksville overcame defensive and base-running mistakes by scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to stun Rowan 3-2.

The thrilling win gave Mocksville (33-5) the area title and a berth to the state tournament in Cherryville. Matt Leonard scored the clinching run when Rowan’s pitcher misjudged a mile-high, one-out popup by Jess Cartner. That set off complete bedlam at home plate, with players leaping up and down and fans cheering madly.

“Oh my Lord. That was crazy,” said Jacob Vernon, who had the second of two clutch hits in the seventh. “We were frustrated because we’ve been working hard all summer and we didn’t want to come this far for nothing. I’ve lost to them every year I’ve been here, and this is so sweet.”

“It was probably the most exciting moment of my life when Jess hit that popup a mile high in the air and they dropped it,” winning pitcher Bret Peterson said.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s that much better because it’s Rowan County,” said Zeb Cope, who tied the game at 2 with a laser single.

Coaches Charles Kurfees and Andrew Jones soaked up the postgame scene. What fun it was for them. Coming into 2007, Mocksville was 7-17 against Rowan, which ended Mocksville’s season in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Needless to say, Mocksville was fed up with losing to Rowan (26-5).

“You would have thought we won the World Series,” Kurfees said, wearing a big grin. “I got doused (by the water cooler). I’m proud to be a part of it.”

With a runner on second in the third, Rowan laid down a bunt, Mocksville threw the ball away and it was 1-0 Rowan. Mocksville made a one-out error in the sixth. After a two-out walk, Rowan singled to make it 2-0.

A loss and Mocksville would have faced a must-win game the next day against hot-hitting Kernersville, as two state berths were on the line in the double-elimination tournament.

“I kept looking at the scoreboard and they had two runs on two errors,” Kurfees said. “The errors were killing us. I was already thinking about the game tomorrow night.”

The game was frustrating because Mocksville had chances in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. It had a runner picked off, it had a runner thrown out trying to steal and Rowan turned a 6-4-3 double play.

“It was real intense,” Peterson said. “I had to keep my mind straight and try to keep my emotions out of the game. I wasn’t hitting good, and I tried not to get upset when the ump wasn’t giving me a call.”

While Mocksville’s bats were sputtering, Peterson was doing exactly what Zack Russell-Myers did to Asheboro the day before in a 5-0 win. He contained a powerful lineup, holding Rowan to six hits and two unearned runs. He struck out seven and walked two.

“You can’t ask for anybody to do any better than that, and he didn’t deserve to get beat 2-0,” Kurfees said. “I think the players knew it, and they stepped up.”

With Mocksville’s back against the wall in the bottom of the seventh, Peterson helped himself with a leadoff walk. John Flowers appeared as a pinch hitter and was hit by a pitch. With two on and Mocksville suddenly energized, Leonard put down a beautiful bunt. His blazing speed forced a hurried throw, and the throw wound up down the right-field line. Peterson scored easily. Flowers raced around third before putting on the brakes.

Cope delivered a nerve-soothing, tying hit up the middle. The bullet eluded a leaping shortstop and elicited a roar from the Mocksville Mountain.

“I had two errors, but my teammates got on, everything fell into place and I got a hit to redeem myself,” Cope said.

“As soon as (Cope) hit that ball, I jumped up in the air,” Peterson said. “I was screaming and yelling. I just wanted to get out there and give him a hug.”

With one out, Vernon came through with an infield hit, barely beating the throw from short and loading the bases for Cartner. Then came the high pop fly. The pitcher staggered to it and it glanced off his glove. Rowan watched helplessly as Leonard streaked home.

The unforgettable comeback came on Charles and Kay Kurfees’ 16th wedding anniversary.

While the late rally became the 33-win season’s defining moment, the story of the game was Peterson. Rowan’s 1-4 batters went 2 for 16. The cleanup man went 0-4 with three strikeouts.

“We’ve had some good ones, but when you’ve got pressure on the line like that, hey, that’s got to be the best (pitching performance) of the year,” Kurfees said. “He threw a lot of first-pitch breaking balls, he kept them offbalance and he threw a lot of balls in the dirt with two strikes.”

With a smile, Peterson said: “My teammates were backing me up. It was probably the best game I’ve ever pitched.”