Laurinburg qualifies for quarterfinals

Laurinburg’s Ben Milligan steps up to the plate during the All-Stars’ 11-10 loss to Mara Thursday morning.

Ben Johnson lays down a successful bunt during Laurinburg’s sixth-inning rally attempt against Mara during pool play of the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament.

LAURINBURG — After suffering a setback in their Thursday morning game against Mara, the Laurinburg Optimist 8U All-Stars rebounded to defeat Okeeheelee in the afternoon to punch a ticket to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament hosted at Optimist Park.

Laurinburg dropped its first game against the Matthews-based program by one run, losing 11-10 after a comeback bid in the final inning was stopped short. The All-Stars scored three runs and advanced a runner to third base in the sixth inning after entering the frame down 11-7, but Mara recorded the final out on a ground ball to first base.

“That first game, we hit the ball well and hit it at them and they made some great plays,” Laurinburg coach Scott Cole said. “It’s two teams, and we just fell short by one play and that’s the way it’s going to go sometimes.”

That set the stage for an elimination game against Florida’s Okeeheelee later in the day, where Laurinburg won 9-4 despite trailing 4-0 after two innings to advance to the final eight of the tournament. Both team’s entered the game with identical 1-1 records, but Laurinburg’s win improved its mark to 2-1 which placed them in the top two of the Western Division Standings.

Mara won the division with a perfect 3-0 record, while Okeeheelee and Newbern (Tennessee) rounded out the pool with 1-2 and 0-3 marks respectively.

The tourney hosted 16 teams — eight from the Rookies American bracket, and eight from the Nationals bracket. The top two teams from the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Division earn the right to play in the quarterfinal round.

On the other side of the American bracket, Southern Pitt finished undefeated in the pool to win the Eastern Division. Southern Pitt scored a pair of victories Thursday after winning its first game Wednesday, defeating South Lakeland (Florida) 11-10 and beating Stafford (Virginia) 9-6.

South Lakeland also advanced out of the Eastern Division, bouncing back from the loss to Southern Pitt to down Giles County (Tennessee) 10-0. Stafford placed third in the pool at 1-2, and Giles County rounded out the group with a 0-3 mark.

In the National bracket, Northwest St. Petersburg (Florida) was the lone undefeated club, rolling to a 3-0 record in the Southern Division. St. Pete won two games on the first day of pool play, then trounced Union County Indian Trail 16-9 Thursday afternoon. Deep River was the other Eastern Division qualifier, winning two games after losing its opening-day contest. Deep River beat Union County Indian Trail 12-2 and Belluve (Tennessee) 9-8 to advance.

Belluve finished third in the pool at 1-2, and Union County Indian Trail was fourth at 0-3.

Every team notched at least one victory in the Northern Division, but it was West Raleigh and Ocala, of Florida, that advanced out of the pool.

West Raleigh was defeated by Ocala 7-6 in its lone game Thursday, but won its first two games the day before to advance to the quarterfinals. Ocala scored a pair of key victories, including a 4-3 win in the morning against New Kent (Virginia), to keep its championships dreams alive after dropping the opening contest Wednesday.

New Kent and Huntingdon (Tennessee) finished a game behind the division leaders with 1-2 records.

Five North Carolina programs, including four from the eastern part of the state, make up today’s eight-team quarterfinal field.

“It speaks volumes about the quality of baseball we have out here,” Cole said.

In the Nationals bracket, West Raleigh is set to play Southern Division winner Northwest St. Pete at 12:30 p.m., and Northern Division champion Ocala takes on Deep River at 2:30.

Laurinburg will challenge Eastern Division champion Southern Pitt at 12:30 in the American semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, Western Division winner Mara battles South Lakeland at 2:30.

The American and National champions will meet in the Southeast Regional title game Saturday at noon.

“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Cole said. “If we hit the ball and play solid defense and minimize our errors, we’ll be fine. If we play our A-game, we’re capable of making a deep run in this final eight.”

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