Back-to-back hits to left field, first by Hunter McClean (UT-Martin) and then Tyler Dunn (Bucknell) drove in the tying and then the winning run pushed the Tarboro River Bandits (26-10, 17-6) past the Norfolk Sea Dogs in the sixth inning (8-10, 6-10), 5-4 and into the league championship game for the third year in a row.
Tarboro won, 5-4.
The Bandits will face Edenton’s Steamers (27-11, 23-11), 10-0 winners over the Greenbrier Knights in a Thursday game delayed for 90 minutes because of lightning.
Game time tonight at Tarboro’s Municipal Stadium is 7 p.m. and regular fans of the Bandits are encouraged to bring a friend to cheer on the home team.
Jared Davis (Barton) pitched the first 5.2 innings for the Bandits. Davis struck out seven but gave up nine hits — including a pair of solo home runs in the sixth that led to Coach Grant Crosby’s deciding to replace him in favor of Porter Braddy (Maryland-Eastern Shore).
Braddy gave up a single run in the seventh before he was replaced by Jay Bullock (Brunswick CC) in the eighth.
Bullock worked his way out of trouble in the eighth, striking out Tre Keels (West Virginia) and getting Emmett Jefferson (Virginia State) to fly out to center to strand runners at second and third.
In the ninth, Bullock got a ground out to start the inning before giving up a single to short center.
Bullock then struck out Lincoln Lubsen (Randolph Macon), who had singled and scored in the fourth and homered in the sixth, and Morris Ford (Virginia State) to end the game.
An inability to score handcuffed the Bandits until they broke out in the sixth.
“We should have scored in the first,” Crosby said after the game. “We just didn’t get the job done.”
Despite loading the bases when the first three batters each drew a walk, Tarboro came up empty.
A bases-loaded strikeout to Jarrett May (Mercer County CC) set the stage for Chase Heath (Central Missouri) to make something happen.
Heath bunted just down the third base line with Sea Dogs catcher Lubsen fielding the ball and forcing James Moses (Towson) at the plate and doubling up Heath at first.
In the second, a two-out double off the wall in left-center by Kevin Jones (Lenoir CC) was for naught when Ty Barrango (College of San Mateo) grounded out to short.
And while scoring a run in the third, the Bandits stranded two more — 12 for the game with runners in scoring position.
Moses led off with a walk and advanced to third on a hit and run by McClean. After Dunn grounded out, May lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score Moses.
McClean would take third on a wild pitch by Mills Becouvarakis (Bryant & Stratton) while Heath drew a two-out walk. Heath stole second before Liam McFadden-Ackman (Northern Kentucky) hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Bandits advanced runners to second and third in the fourth, only to come up empty and a runner was stranded at second in the fifth when Norfolk turned its third double play of the game.
The Sea Dogs took the lead — and silenced the crowd — in the sixth.
Lubsen led off with a no-doubter over the fence in center, and after Davis recorded back-to-back-strikeouts, Sam Slevin (Randolph-Macon) hit another shot to dead center to make it 3-1.
It was then that Braddy entered the game in relief, walking Dominic Younger (Rosemont) and giving up a single to short center that Moses almost caught.
Keels then singled behind shortstop, but on an 0-1 pitch, was thrown out by Heath as he tried to steal second.
With an air of urgency starting to permeate the ballpark, the Bandits broke things open in the bottom of the frame.
Having been limited to just four hits at that point, Harrison Johnson (Ohio) his a towering blast to just right of straightaway center to open the inning.
Jones and Barrango both walked on a total of nine pitches before a sacrifice fly to left by Moses moved Jones to third.
McClean then singled to left to drive in Jones and put runners at first and second.
Jones and Barrango then executed a double steal off relief pitcher Danny Padilla (CCCB-Essex) to advance to second and third for Dunn.
Dunn took a Padilla pitch deep into left field as both Jones and Barrango were on the move and scored on the double.
Padilla was able to work out of the jam, stranding two more Bandits.
Virginia Beach managed a run in the seventh, but Braddy stranded a runner at third to work out of a jam and left runners at second and third in the eighth.
Braddy got the win for the Bandits while Bullock got the save. The trio of Tarboro pitchers recorded 12 strikeouts while scattering 10 hits and stranding nine Sea Dogs base runners.
Tarboro managed nine hits and stranded 12 runners.
The Bandits were led at the plate by four batters with two hits each — Johnson, who was 2-for-4 with a home run and run scored; McClean, who was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI; Dunn, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI, and May, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI.