Whiteville capped off its perfect week at the 2021 North Carolina Dixie Youth Baseball Tournament in walk-off style.
Noah Jones’ two-run single in the bottom of the fourth inning Friday morning against South Columbus ended the tournament with a walk-off win, as Whiteville completed a 6-0 tournament with a resounding 11-1 victory over its cross-county rivals in the AAA (10 and under) bracket.
Whiteville and South Columbus came into the tournament anything but strangers, having already played each other a half dozen times this season, including in a local district championship just before traveling to Dunn. As South Columbus’ pitching wavered, Edward Sidney Miller threw four no-hit innings for Whiteville in the tourney finale.
“I think this is the eighth time we’ve played this team so we know them pretty well,” Whiteville manager Matt McLean said. “They really played us tough. We have good friends over there and it’s a rivalry. It’s been a great ride and I’ve got a great group of kids and a great group of fans. That’s what makes it great and it’s what makes the rivalry between these two towns great. They got a great group and are super talented. We’re just happy to pull this one out.”
Miller didn’t need much offense on Friday, but Whiteville provided him with plenty anyway, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Miller took it from there.
“I felt good,” said Miller. “I felt confident and was ready to put on a show. gave me a little bit of a boost to do better on the mound and it felt really good.”
Miller’s only real test appeared in the top of the fourth inning with his team leading 7-0. The right-hander led off the frame walking Walker Smith before falling behind Duncan Worley 3-0 in the count. Miller settled down, firing three straight strikes to retire Worley. South ended up scoring a run on a fielding error, but Miller escaped the early control problems in good shape.
“I was pitching better,” Miller said. “I just kept my poise and kept on pitching. I noticed I was struggling so I just took my time and tried to calm down so I could play my best ball.”
McLean credited his pitcher’s ability to stay in the moment and not let the game get away from him as South attempted to mount a comeback.
“He’s tough and he really stayed poised,” said McLean of Miller. “That’s something we talk about is try to forget the last play if it’s a bad one and move on to the next. He’s a fantastic pitcher and a fantastic kid. We’re proud of the job he did today.”
South Columbus needed a little bit of that earlier in the game when a series of mishaps cascaded into a big opening inning for Whiteville. Worley struggled with his control and catcher Sawyer Coleman spent too much time chasing down loose balls behind the plate as Whiteville capitalized on every South mistake. Wild pitches opened the floodgates to a six-run first inning South simply couldn’t recover from.
“I’m super proud of them,” South manager Jason Worley said. “We weren’t even supposed to be here. Our first practice was our first game against them in the tournament. I think our kids just ran out of gas. We’re limited on pitchers and we just run out of gas. I think this is maybe the eighth we’ve played them so we know each other well.”
Whiteville’s offense came alive in the bottom of the fourth inning. Needing four runs to close out the game under the Mercy Rule, Whiteville led off the frame with back-to-back hits from Luke McLean and Miller. After a wild pitch and an error plated a pair of runs, Jones stepped up to the plate with two men on base and a chance to end the game with a single swing. Jones responded, lining a base hit off the third base bag that scored two and set off the celebration at Carlie C’s IGA Field.
Whiteville’s win punched its ticket to Mississippi for the 10 and under World Series at the end of the month.
“It feels great,” said Miller. “We’re going to have to play our best ball because there are going to be a lot of good teams down there. We’re just going to do well hitting the ball, pitching, and play like we’ve never played before.”
South Columbus finished the tournament with a 4-2 record and East Duplin won the Sportsmanship Award.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2038.