LUMBERTON — The championship game of the Dixie Youth AAA World Series was a border war.
North Carolina and South Carolina met Thursday night at the Ray Pennington Athletic Complex to decide the winner after both teams handed Florida, the last undefeated team in the field, losses an provided the entertainment to the last out.
South Carolina used early runs and solid pitching, much like it had all tournament, to come away with the 4-3 win and claim the title. Winning Dixie Youth World Series was nothing new to the group from Midland after winning the Coach Pitch World Series in 2016 with eight of the same kids on the roster.
“It’s a good group of kids,” South Carolina coach Matt Hornsby said. “This is our second World Series and I’m proud of the kids.
“All the work we put into it, practicing twice a day every day. I’m just proud of the kids for how they worked and came together and bought into what we asked them to do. It’s been a great summer.”
Over the first three innings, South Carolina posted four runs and looked as though it was going to run away with the title, before North Carolina came storming back.
An error and a RBI single by Jonah Campbell cut the South Carolina lead to 4-2, and the sixth inning the team from Leland looked to pull some more sixth-inning magic, like it did against Florida earlier in the day.
Will Jones took a 0-1 pitch over the left field wall with no outs in the sixth inning to cut the lead to 4-3. The tying run reached with two outs on a walk and advanced on a wild pitch, but South Carolina’s Logan Gadberry came in for the last batter and closed the win out.
“I just tried to settle them down and keep them focused,” Hornsby said of what was discussed in the huddle after he came out to talk to the team following the homer. “I wanted to make sure they knew where to go with the ball and what the situation was.”
Gadberry came on after Keaton Bennett had pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowed five hits and three runs, while striking out striking out three batters.
“Keaton is great. He pitched every game this tournament and we asked him to go a little further than he’s been going today and we stretched him out,” Hornsby said. “He did a great job, and then Logan came in and pitched to the last batter and got him out.”
The champions from the Palmetto State struck early with two RBI singles in the first inning from Gadberry and Will Yancey, and then in the third inning when Yancey and M.J. Hornsby.
“We didn’t take advantage of runners in scoring position later in the game, and I wish we could’ve added some more runs to it so it wouldn’t have been quite as tight,” Hornsby said. “But they pulled it through with some good defense and scored enough to win.”
M.J. Hornsby was the leading hitter in the tournament with .538 batting average, something that caught him and his father and coach Matt by surprise.
“It was shock,” Matt Hornsby said. “He sturggled a little bit at states and he and I went to spend a little extra time in the cages. He put a lot of hard work into getting it fixed. I didn’t think we was going to do that, but I’m proud of him.”
Yancey led his team with two hits.
Jones had a pair of extra base hits for North Carolina with his homer and double.
To get to the championship game, North Carolina used some late-inning magic to claim a 2-1 win over Florida.
The team from Leland was down 1-0 entering the final inning and used a walk-off single by Fisher Goodwin to punch their ticket to play South Carolina, after being held to one hit the first five innings.
Goodwin’s hit came after Brandon McLean tied the game in the previous at bat when he beat the throw home coming from third base.
Florida took the early lead on a Noah Hartley RBI single in the second inning.
Jayce Rollins had two hits for Florida. Goodwin had a pair of hits as well.
Arkansas won the sportsmanship award for the AAA World Series.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.