LAURINBURG — As Optimist 8U coach Scott Cole has said all week during Laurinburg’s run through the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament, “anytime you’re playing eight year old baseball, anything can happen.”
That mantra lived up to its unpredictable nature once again Friday afternoon during the regional quarterfinal matchup between Laurinburg and Eastern Division champion Southern Pitt at Optimist Park.
The host club scored the first nine runs of the game, then allowed 11 straight in the bottom of the fourth inning before Optimist answered with five of their own in the top of the fifth inning to capture the 14-12 victory and earn a spot in the Rookies American bracket championship game today at 10 a.m.
The winner of this morning’s matchup will play at noon against the National bracket winner for the Southeastern Regional championship.
Laurinburg, which finished second in the Western Division during pool play, took its previously undefeated opponent to task in the early stages of the contest, jumping out to a 9-0 lead through four innings. Optimist attempted to seal the victory with another run in the top of the frame, but the potential game-winning score was thrown out at home plate.
“We had runners on first and second with two outs, and if you’re up by 10 after four (innings), the game is over,” Cole said. “We had a ground ball to left field and tried to go second to home on it and they threw us out trying to get that 10th run. I probably shouldn’t have pushed it but I was just trying to end the game — anytime you’re playing eight-year-old baseball, anything can happen.”
And in the bottom of the inning, Southern Pitt made Laurinburg pay for not closing the door on its opponent when it had the chance, erupting for 11 runs to take a 11-9 advantage into the top of the fifth.
“I can’t point to anything we did to really give it to them — they earned them,” Cole said. “Hats off to them for not folding up because I’m sure they heard the talk that West Raleigh and Laurinburg were the two best teams out of the east, and I’m sure they had a point to prove.”
Suddenly facing a deficit after holding a large lead for much of the game, Optimist dug deep and answered with five clutch runs in the top of the inning. Laurinburg loaded the bases with the bottom of its lineup, then leadoff batter W.J. Allen ripped a line drive over the Southern Pitt infield for a three-RBI triple.
“I felt like if we got to the top of our lineup, our first four or five guys, nine times of 10 they’re going to put runs up on the board,” Cole said. “I knew if it got back to them and we had runners on base we would be good and sure enough, W. J. Allen, who is our leadoff guy, comes up and hits an absolute bomb over left field to clear the bases.”
Allen was afraid the ball would fall into the glove of a Southern Pitt outfielder and end the Optimist scoring chance, but it dropped to the ground before it could be reeled in.
“I thought it was going to be over,” Allen said.
Allen’s triple gave Laurinburg a 12-11 lead, then the team tacked on two security runs heading into the final two innings.
Southern Pitt added a run in the bottom of the fifth, and after Laurinburg went scoreless in the sixth, the Grimesland-based program had one final opportunity to steal the win.
Southern Pitt loaded the bases with two outs on the board, but Laurinburg forced a groundout to third base to end the threat and clinch a berth in the tournament’s final four.
“That was more exciting than I wanted it to be but I can’t blame my kids, they played a great game,” Cole said.
Laurinburg is scheduled to play South Lakeland (Florida) at 10 a.m. in the American bracket final after South Lakeland defeated Western Division champion Mara 2-0 in the other league semifinal.
In the National bracket final, West Raleigh and Ocala (Florida) will meet for the second time this tournament at 10 a.m. West Raleigh moved on after beating Northwest St. Petersburg (Florida) 7-4 and Ocala advanced with a 9-3 victory over Deep River.
Ocala defeated West Raleigh 7-6 in the first matchup during pool play to win the Northern Division title.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.