In the United States semifinal games at the Cal Ripken World Series on Friday, West Raleigh, N.C. held on to top Elk Grove, Calif., while New Milford, Conn. took a comeback victory over Piedmont, Del.
West Raleigh will square off with New Milford for the U.S. championship Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
West Raleigh holds on
Southeast representative West Raleigh held off a late surge from Elk Grove, the Pacific Southwest entry, at Cal Sr.'s Yard on Friday night to earn a 6-4 semifinal victory and with it a berth in the U.S. title game on Saturday.
West Raleigh came through with three runs in the top of the first, then extended its lead to 5-0 with a pair of runs in the third.
Elk Grove came to life in the bottom of the third, scoring once, and added another run in the fourth. The fourth inning saw the boys from California plate two runs, cutting the Raleigh lead down to 6-4.
In the bottom of the sixth, with Elk Grove needing two runs to tie the game and three for a walk-off win, West Raleigh hurler Ryan Sholar struck out the first two hitter he faced, then walked the third. Elk Grove sent the tying run to the plate, but Sholar fanned that batter on four pitches to end the game.
Over two innings, Sholar recorded six strikeouts, issued one walk and held Elk Grove hitless.
West Raleigh starter Tucker Jackson, the winning pitcher, went four innings, striking out eight, walking three and allowing one earned run on three hits.
Jackson had Raleigh's hottest bat, as he went 2-for-2 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Victor Vargas was 1-for-3 with a solo home run in the victory, while Sholar was 1-for-3 with one RBI and one run. Raleigh's Jeff Griffin was 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
Elk Grove's Jonah Ira went 1-for-2 with a two-RBI double. Zach Meddings, Riley Sakora and R.J. Blanton all scored one run in the loss.
Swanson leads New Milford
New Milford center fielder Austin Swanson hit, caught and threw his team into Saturday's U.S. championship. His three-run home run capped a four-run fourth inning that gave the New England entry its 5-4 win over Piedmont, the Middle Atlantic representative, Friday afternoon at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
New Milford trailed Piedmont, 4-1, before putting together its game-winning rally in the fourth inning.
New Milford's big fourth inning got started with a ground ball single to center field by Joey Shine off Piedmont reliever Brian Gilardi. The ball, though, was misplayed in the outfield and rolled all the way to the wall.
Shine raced to third and was there with no one out. Gilardi struck out Tyler Bowe and then got Hunter Skelly to ground out to short for out number two. Shine scored on the play.
Tim Cianciolo then hit a grounder that Piedmont shortstop Shane Lougheed tried to field, well on the first base side of second base. He kicked it and Cianciolo was safe.
Kendall Greene followed with a single up the middle, bringing Swanson to the plate for the dramatic blast.
"I was trying to get a single to score the runner from second and I hit one out," Swanson said. "I thought it was going to be a double, I thought it was going to hit the wall."
The ball carried past the elevated right field wall to the left by just a few feet.
Swanson's play in the field in two the next three innings was equally impressive and likely game saving.
In the bottom of the fifth, with Max Cotier on in relief of starter Bowe, Piedmont's Brendan Balthis reached on an error.
Balthis stole second and was there when Swanson made a sliding catch of Jack Hansen's short and sinking fly ball.
The next batter, leadoff man Seth Bialecki, popped out foul near the first base dugout. Three New Milford players chased the ball and pitcher Cotier made the catch for the second out.
Cotier, though, walked the next two batters and fell behind the next hitter Marshall Awtry, before getting him to hit an inning ending fly ball to left field.
In the sixth, Cotier got two quick outs and appeared to have the third when Sean Regan hit a fly ball to left field. The ball was dropped and Regan strolled into second with the potential tying run.
Mike Dellose (2-for-2, HBP) came to the plate and singled sharply up the middle to Swanson. Swanson fielded the ball cleanly and Regan was rounding third and heading for home.
Swanson threw a strike to catcher Cianciolo and Regan stopped in his tracks some 15 feet around third. Cianciolo alertly got Regan in a rundown, tossing the ball to third baseman Kurtis Krizan. Krizan ran Regan a few steps before getting the ball back to Cianciolo, who applied the game-ending tag on Regan.
"I was going to throw it to the pitcher, because that's what's we practice and practice, but I saw him running, rounding third, and shot home, perfect throw and got 'em," Swanson said.
Piedmont had taken a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Bialecki singled to lead off, stole a base and scored on an Awtry RBI single. Max Gioffre then stepped in and hit a two-run home run to right center field. Jimmy Paoli, a pinch runner for Awtry, scored on the home run.
New Milford scored its only other run in the second. Bowe and Skelly drew back-to-back, one-out walks. Tom Johnson, a pinch runner for Bowe, had moved to third on two wild pitches with Skelly at bat.
Cianciolo picked up the RBI on a fielder's choice ground ball to short.
Piedmont got the run back in their half of the third. Shane Lougheed and Gilardi hit singles and Lougheed came around to score on a wild pitch.
Bowe gets the win, despite giving up all four runs on six Piedmont hits. Cotier worked the final three innings, allowing just one hit. He walked two, hit a batter and struck out one.
Bialecki pitched the first three innings for Piedmont, allowing just one hit and one run. He walked four and struck out three and did throw four wild pitches.