LELAND — The West Bladen Knights are Alabama bound once again.
For the third straight summer, West Bladen’s Dixie Pre-Majors baseball team won the North Carolina championship with a 5-2 victory over Duplin County on Tuesday behind a two-hitter on the hill and two RBI from the plate by Chandler Lennon.
“The boys are excited about this opportunity,” said West Bladen coach Kim Cain. “They can’t wait to get to Alabama.”
The Knights, sporting a 16-5 summer record, will head to Guntersville, Ala., on Thursday, July 23, for the Dixie Pre-Majors World Series. The opening ceremony will take place the following day and, on Saturday, July 25, West Bladen will open the double-elimination tournament against the Alabama state champions at 10 a.m.
Tuesday’s state championship game, which had been postponed by a day because of weather, saw the Knights get on the board in the home half of the first inning — but only after some drama in the top of the first set up by Lennon, who walked the first two batters he faced. Then, after two pop ups, Duplin loaded the bases on another walk before the final out was made without any damage being done.
Jeremy Hunt started things for West Bladen by working a walk, then stole second and third base ahead of an RBI single by Trent West for a 1-0 lead.
After a scoreless second inning, the Knights put three runs on the board in the bottom of the third. Seth Britt reached first base on an error and then stole second base. Scott Bowen ripped an RBI single to plate Britt and West muscled an RBI double to bring Bowen home. Lennon then stroked a run-scoring single to give West Bladen a 4-0 lead.
The fourth frame went by scoreless but, in the top of the fifth, Duplin County finally nicked Lennon for a pair of runs to cut the deficit to 4-2.
West Bladen got a run back in the bottom of the fifth when the Knights loaded the bases — Britt singled, Bowen walked and West was hit by a pitch ahead of Lennon’s sacrifice fly that brought Britt home with the final run of the game.
“Chandler had some trouble with his control early, but he settled in later in the game and pitched a good one overall,” Cain said. “Plus, our defense was pretty good. I’d like to see us hit the ball better, but we got enough to win.”
Lennon earned the win on the mound, going seven innings and giving up the two hits, five walks, one hit batter and striking out two.
At the plate, West was 2-for-2 with two RBI and a double; Lennon was 1-for-2 with two RBI; Weston Pidgeon was 1-for-2 with a double; Bowen was 1-for-3 with an RBI; and Britt was 1-for-2.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.