WILSON — One bad inning spoiled the dream of Clayton’s Little League Minors All-Stars on July 5, as the Gray’s Creek All-Stars rallied for a 4-3 victory.
Leading 3-1 entering the bottom half of the fifth inning in their loser’s bracket semifinals of the North Carolina District 6 Little League Majors championship tournament, being contested on the J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex, Clayton’s dream of a state tournament berth ended in a three-run Gray’s Creek rally.
Clayton had entered Sunday’s competition on the brink of elimination, having lost, 12-1, to South Durham during competition in the Area A bracket, also contested in Wilson. The Minors battled back through that losers bracket with three decisive victories to earn their berth in the District 6 “Final Four.”
Gray’s Creek earned its berth through the losers bracket of the Area B tournament, contested in Fayetteville.
The losses from their respective tournaments carried into Sunday’s action, meaning in order to advance to the N.C. Little League championship tournament in Morganton, scheduled for July 12-18, either Clayton or Gray’s Creek would have to win four consecutive games.
It also left this painful scenario: lose one and go home.
Unfortunately for Clayton, the latter portion of the scenario befell them, despite holding an early 1-0 advantage, then a 3-1 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.
Just six defensive outs away from a potential losers bracket finals match up with Stedman, which was rocked by South Durham, 26-2, in the winner’s bracket finals, Clayton’s dream dissipated.
Gray’s Creek opened its half of the fifth when Ben Lovette was hit by a pitch and scored on a one-out double by Dalton Patrick, trimming the lead to 3-2.
Patrick moved to third on a wild pitch, and when the third strike to Tyler Strickland got away, scored when Clayton opted to throw Strickland out at first.
With the score tied, Gray’s Creek sent Jadarious Blossom to the late, who quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole.
Blossom dug himself out of that hole with a mammoth blast over the left field fence, landing where City of Wilson employees are grading the area for another field.
Clayton battled back in the sixth, putting the tying run on third when Matson Daniels led off the inning with a double, and moved to third on a two-out single by Mike Orlowski before being stranded.
“We really thought we had it rolling,” said Clayton coach Wayne Cummings. “Where we could get back in it, we got a lead-off double and had a kid where we thought he could score.
“Kid comes up and gets a hit, but we had a base-running error and didn’t get the kid in at home. We could have tied it up there and gone to extra innings, but we didn’t get it done.”
Cummings felt there was something amiss about his team Sunday, particularly after the run through the Area A tournament. “I felt they didn’t come out loose today. They struggled getting their game together; we just ran out of the juice we needed.”
Clayton looked as if had a little juice in taking a 1-0 lead, working Gray’s Creek pitching for 1-0 lead with out the benefit of a hit in the second inning.
Zane Blinson and Josh Adler drew walks and Daniels was hit by a pitch to lo the bases with one out, but th only run came on a third-strike passed ball.
After Gray’s Creek tied matters in the third on two hits and two wild pitches, Clayton regained the lead in the fourth when Daniels singled, moved to second on an error and scored on Ben Reichard’s single to left.
Clayton could have added to it’s lead, but Jeremiah Curry was called out at the plate on a bang-bang play.
Ty Cummings extended Clayton’s lead to 3-1 in the fifth on a lead-off home run.
“The kids played well this year,” Wayne Cummings said. “This was our ninth game together they had a chance at the championship in the districts, just came up a little short.”