As a team progresses deeper into the playoffs they will face tougher competition with each upcoming round. Even though Mint Hill was the Number 1 seed in the tournament, a team can get beat in a short series. Especially when you are missing two important pitchers who played a key role in achieving the top spot. Both Sam Kagan and Corbin Berkovicks were not available for this round due to other commitments which placed a lot more pressure on the pitching staff.
They lost two heart breakers 10-9 in extra innings in game one, and a 6-4 loss on a walk-off home run in game two just one strike away from ending the game. In both games the club could have easily won taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the five game series. Mint Hill had the opportunity of putting themselves in a great position, instead a resilient Gaston County team reversed the tables and took full advantage of every mistake.
If Mint Hill had won both games, they would have put their opponent in a position of having to sweep the remaining three games with top starter Sam Kagan returning in time for a game 5 if needed. Taking nothing away from Gaston County, who clearly played better than Mint Hill in the three games, and deserved to advance into the finals. However, when you don’t have to face both of a teams top hurlers it automatically gives your club a very distinct advantage.
In game 3 at Independence High School Gaston County ended this contest early. They scored 10 earned runs against starter Bryce Gorospe who suffered his worst defeat of the entire season. He just simply did not have his breaking pitch working for him to keep the Gaston hitters off stride, with an average fast ball without a lot of movement in the first inning they batted around with the first 9 batters reaching base without recording an out. The big hit of the inning for the Braves was delivered by Jason Szot who slammed a three run homer over the left-center field fence.
Relief pitcher and teammate from Queens Grant High School Jacob Beard entered the game and gave up a single driving in the last two runs, however, with the bases loaded these runs were charged to Gorospe. On the next pitch, a grounder to third baseman JD Yakubinis cut off the runner at home plate, and catcher Braden Smith fired to first baseman Shane Russell for the double play. Beard would proceed to get the final out on a strikeout to end the ten run onslaught. He also pitched into the fifth inning allowing only two more runs in a good effort in relief.
Mint Hill fought back and tried to chip away at the ten run deficit, however they fell well short with the 14-4 drubbing using four pitchers in the process. The local boys did score four runs in the second inning when Russell lined a single, Owen Tappy walked, a wild pitch put the runners on second and third, then Yakubinis delivered a crunching base hit scoring both runners for the first two runs. Mint Hill would add two more runs on hits by Matt Mangum, Braden Smith, and Michael Dansky. However, two runners were stranded when Noah Howie would hit a soft liner to the shortstop for the final out. This was a big moment early in the game, a hit in this situation would have made the score 11-6 after two innings with five remaining at-bats for the home team to mount a comeback. Instead, the score was 11-4 with the Braves maintaining a commanding lead and keeping the momentum.
Mint Hill would not score another run, while Gaston County added three more insurance runs to secure their six inning victory applying the ten run rule. Mint Hill had an opportunity in the fourth, when Yakubinis doubled, Smith singled putting runners on the corners, but reliable Bubba Comer would go down on strikes, and Dansky followed by grounding out to end the threat.
Again in the fifth, Russell drilled a triple, Caleb Embry walked with one out, Tappy fouled out to the first baseman, and Yakubinis hit a long drive to the wall to left caught by the left fielder up against the fence. Another lost opportunity to keep pressure on the Braves and a three-run homer falling just short.
With Cherryville defeating Union County in their series there will be a one game playoff between Mint Hill and Union County as three teams this year will be representing the West in the State Playoff finals prior to the regional’s.
Team – Game – 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Gaston County 10 1 0 0 1 2 X 14 18 1
Mint Hill 0 4 0 0 0 0 X 4 8 2