All-Stars’ run ends in semis

The 8U Optimist All-Stars advanced to the semifinals of the North Carolina state tournament before falling to West Raleigh for the second consecutive season. Front row, from left: Cameron Cole, Ryan McCormick, Ben Johnson, Caleb Cheek, Makaden Hunt, Lane Bormet. Second row, from left: Brannigan Wright, Garrett Manning, Bryant Kimbrell, Ben Milligan, WJ Allen, Kaden Hall. Back row, from left: coach Benjie Milligan, manager Scott Cole, coach Frankie Concepcion.

WILSON – The 8U Laurinburg Optimist All-Stars advanced deep into the North Carolina state tournament for the second straight year, but were ousted by an old foe.

After falling to West Raleigh in the championship game last season, Optimist was handed a 21-9 defeat in the semifinals of this year’s state tourney by the all-stars from Raleigh. It was the only loss the Laurinburg all-stars suffered during tournament action.

“We just couldn’t catch any breaks and after every break, they made us pay with some outstanding hitting,” said Optimist coach Scott Cole. “Congratulations to West Raleigh, they are a really good team. For years their program has been the measuring stick as the best program in the country for Cal Ripken baseball. You only get better by measuring yourself against the standard.”

West Raleigh led 12-9 entering the final inning before scoring nine unanswered runs to secure the victory.

Last year at the 7U state tournament, both teams were undefeated heading into the championship game and that was once again the case in their meeting this season.

West Raleigh started the game hot, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first. In the bottom half of the inning, Laurinburg, propelled by a three-run homerun by Bryant Kimbrell, tied the game at four.

After both teams went scoreless in the second, West Raleigh added three in the third before Laurinburg tacked on a run to cut the lead to 7-5. After a scoreless third, West Raleigh scored five runs in the fourth inning and Laurinburg responded with four in the bottom half remain within striking distance. The fifth inning would see both teams go scoreless again before West Raleigh racked up almost double-digit runs in the sixth.

“I hate the sixth inning got a bit out of hand,” Cole said. “We have to get back to work and get ready for the Southeast Regional.”

Laurinburg entered the game having outscored its opponents 67-24 in its past four games while West Raleigh held a 56-4 advantage against its foes.

Optimist finished 3-0 in pool play to earn the No. 1 in their bracket. In the first pool game against Northview, Laurinburg scored a tournament-high 27 runs, including 12 in the fifth inning, to score a 27-12 victory. In game 2, Laurinburg played Winterville and notched a 15-9 win against a team that finished No. 3 in the state last season. Optimist jumped out to a 13-2 lead and held on in the later innings to secure the win.

In the final game of pool play, Laurinburg cruised to a 14-1 victory against North Wake in a contest that was called after four innings.

After earning the No. 1 seed in their pool, Laurinburg drew Supper Optimist from Wilmington, the No. 2 team in the bracket. Much like their previous game against North Wake, Optimist rolled to an easy 11-2 win to advance to the semis.

After defeating Laurinburg, West Raleigh went on to win the 8U state championship, defeating Southern Pitt 15-0 in the title tilt.

“I’m really proud of these boys, they once again provided to be one of the best teams in the state,” Cole said. “That last game was really impressive from both sides. Both teams did some things that made you doubt you were watching 8-year- old baseball. I’m really proud we were able to be part of a memorable battle.”

Cole and his Optimist team will host the 8U Cal Ripken Southeast Regional at Optimist Park from July 14-19.

“We are looking forward to hosting the champions and runner-ups for the six states that comprise the southeast region. It’s going to be an incredible challenge and an incredible experience for our kids. Few kids ever get to attend a Southeast Regional, and our kids get to attend one in their own town. This is one of the best experiences in all of youth sports. I’m looking forward to watching these young men enjoy it.”

Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.