Knights upend Alabama champions, 9-4

By: W. Curt Vincent -

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — The North Carolina state champion West Bladen Knights survived a nightmare first inning, then erupted for five runs on six hits in the second inning and went on to beat the Alabama state champions 9-4 on Saturday in the opening round of the Dixie Pre-Majors World Series.

It’s the first time the Knights, who are competing in their third straight World Series, have opened the double-elimination tournament with a win. They will face the Virginia state champions on Sunday at 5 p.m. (EST) — Virginia beat defending World Series champion Mississippi on Saturday.

“We didn’t play well to start — I think a little nerves got us,” said West Bladen coach Kim Cain. “But we played pretty well the rest of the way and beat a good team.”

Alabama scored three runs in the home half of the first inning behind a walk, an error and two hits. But the Knights turned the tables in the second inning.

Trent West opened the inning with a single to center, followed by a single from Chandler Lennon and a sacrifice bunt by Donald McCullum. Ray Jones then stroked an RBI single to right and Jarrett Williams ripped an RBI single to left-center, followed by an infield dribbler by Ian Sykes that loaded the bases. Jeremy Hunt lofted a sacrifice fly and Seth Britt laced a two-run single to center that gave West Bladen a 5-3 lead.

The two teams combined for just a single hit over the next three innings,but the Knights plated three runs in the top of the sixth to all but put the game away.

Lennon led off the sixth with a walk and McCullum singled ahead of a walk to Jones that loaded the bases with no outs. Williams ripped an RBI single and Sykes’ shot down the third-base line was fielded but thrown away and let another run score. Hunt then laced an RBI single to put West Bladen up 8-3.

The Knights added a run in the top of the seventh when Lennon lined a one-out single and, after a second out, he scored when Jones’ grounder was booted.

Alabama nicked the Knights for a run in the bottom of the seventh to cut the deficit to 9-4.

Lennon went the distance on the hill for West Bladen to earn the win. He gave up four hits, two walks, hit four batters and struck out four.

“Chandler battled all day,” Cain said. “He really threw a good game — and he was pitching to a first-time catcher in Jeremy Hunt, who really did well back there.”

West Bladen’s 10-hit attack was led by Williams, who was 2-for-3 with two RBI, and Lennon, who was also 2-for-3. Hunt was 1-for- 3with two RBI; Britt was 1-for-4 with two RBI; and Sykes was 1-for-3 with an RBI.

“We put the bat on the ball well,” Cain said. “We also played good defense — we turned three double-plays in the game.”

W. Curt Vincent