NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — West Bladen completed the first leg toward a third straight return to the Dixie Pre-Majors World Series on Thursday by rallying to win the conference tournament 4-3 over host North Myrtle Beach.
The Knights, 13-5, had lost their only meeting with the Chiefs during the regular season, 1-0 on June 18.
North Myrtle Beach nicked Knights starter Jeremy Hunt for a run in the bottom of the first inning and the game remained 1-0 through the third.
But West Bladen knotted the game at 1-1 in the top of the fourth frame when Hunt worked a walk and, on a bunt-steal play, Seth Britt laid down a sacrifice that helped push Hunt all the way to third. After a groundout, Trent West stroked an RBI single for the run.
Hunt was roughed up in the home half of the fifth, when the Chiefs plated a pair of runs and knocked Hunt off the mound after taking a 3-1 lead. West came on in relief and held North Myrtle Beach in check the rest of the way.
In the top of the sixth, the Knights rallied to again knot the game with a pair of runs. Brandon Carson opened the rally with a single and Ian Sykes reached when he was hit by a pitch. Moments later, Caleb Sholar reached on a fielder’s choice and Scott Bowen ripped a two-run double to right-center.
West Bladen scored the winning run in the top half of the seventh when Donald McCullum singled and, when the Chief’s catcher attempted a pickoff at first, the ball sailed down the line and McCullum raced all the way to third. A passed ball brought McCullum home.
“I thought we played really well,” said Josh Schultz, who was coaching the Knights while Kim Cain was with his wife after her surgery. “The boys battled back and the bats came alive later in the game.
“That was a big hit by Scott (Bowen) in the sixth, and Donald (McCullum) gave us some heads-up base running for the winning run in the seventh,” he added.
Hunt went four innings on the hill for West Bladen, giving up three runs on six hits, four walks and three strikeouts. West earned the win after pitching the final three innings and holding North Myrtle Beach hitless, giving up just one walk and striking out four.
West Bladen had seven hits in the game — the two-run double by Bowen, an RBI single by West and singles by Carson, Chandler Lennon, Jones, McCullum, Ray Jones and Weston Pidgeon.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.