The “Boys of Summer” season came to an abrupt end with a heartbreaking 7-6 loss in the tenth inning of a sudden death playoff game. The winner is moving on in the state finals double elimination tournament in Cherryville. The state champion will advance to the regional’s in route to the American Legion Baseball World Series.
Mint Hill had a 14-4 record during the regular season and was the second seed based on a percentage points to first seed Cherryville at 13-3 on the regular season. This team dominated certain clubs, and defeated Union County twice during the regular season, however, just could not get it done a third time.
It’s the little things which make the difference between victory and defeat. It was a combination of both physical and mental errors lately costing this team an opportunity to win a state title. Mint Hill simply did not play their best baseball in the final four games of the season being swept by Gaston County who finished fourth dropping two games they should have won, and to Union County who finished third in the sudden death playoff game.
In the opening inning, Mint Hill scored first with two outs, Sam Kagan singled, Shane Russell reached on an error, Caleb Embry singled driving in Kagan. Then JD Yakubinis smashed a base hit to left-center, which looked like Russell would score from second base, the speedy Embry tried to go from first to third and was thrown out before Russell could score from second by a full stride, the second run did not count. If the runner scores this game never goes into extra innings and Mint Hill is heading to Cherryville with a 5-4 win.
Sam Kagan sailed through the third inning, with some assistance from Noah Howie who made two nice running catches to keep Union County hitters talking to themselves, including almost doubling up a runner on first base with a one hopper to Russell at first base. Meanwhile, Grayson Barger matched Kagan pitch for pitch. However, in the fourth, the visitors scratched three runs on three hits a walk, a wild pitch and sacrifice fly to take a 3-1 lead.
In the fifth, with Ryan Mangum now on the mound for Mint Hill, Union County added another run on a base hit and two walks and sacrifice fly taking a 4-1 lead. Mint Hill bounced back with two runs of their own, Yakubinis was hit-by-pitch, Noah Howie singles, Ryan Mangum worked a base-on-balls, Matt Mangum drives a single up the middle scoring 2 runs. We now have a 4-3 game after five innings of competition.
In the sixth, Sam Kagan is hit-by-pitch for the second time leading-off, after Russell and Embry go down on strikes, Yakubinis walks, then Noah Howie on a 3-2 count lined a base hit to center-field scoring Kagan to tie the game at 4-4.
In the seventh, between the threat of rain and lightening in the area both teams did not score sending the game into extra innings.
In the eighth, relief pitcher Michael Dansky who took over for Ryan Mangum in the sixth, recorded one quick out, followed by a hard hit grounder to second baseman Matt Mangum who fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first base was wide pulling Russell off the bag. The next batter hit into a force play at second base, now with two outs, Steven Gonzalez would drive a fast ball over the left-center field fence for a two-run homer giving Union County a 6-4 lead.
There is no quit on this Mint Hill team, again they bounced back to score two runs of their own with two big clutch hits coming from Ben Walton who smacked a double scoring a run, and he would score on Matt Mangum’s base hit down the left field line past the third baseman to tie the score again at 6-6.
In the ninth, Union County could not score after having runners on first and second as Dansky worked out of the jam by getting Michael Neal to hit a lazy fly ball to center-field to end the inning. Then came the second delay of the game, and the rains drenched the field sending everyone home to complete the game on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Mint Hill against new hurler Michael Neal hit two line drives directly at the center-fielder, and Russell lined to shortstop to end the ninth.
In the tenth, with new Mint Hill relief pitcher Jake McDaniel on the mound Matt Duncan walked, Henry Jackson reached on a throwing error by Noah Howie pulling Russell off the bag, Dustin Mercer delivered a double scoring Duncan, both Trevor Grant and Brett Wiseman fouled out to first base. However, Union County scored one run taking a 7-6 advantage with Mint Hill coming up to bat.
Caleb Embry led-off and was promptly hit-by-pitch, Yakubinis lined out to shortstop, and then Noah Howie would hit a hard smash right at the shortstop who turned a 6-4-3 double play nipping Howie at first base on a very close play to end the ball game.