NEWTON — The American Legion Post 48 baseball team from Hickory finally got some life out of its offense in the seventh inning Wednesday night at Henkel-Alley Field. But it was a case of too little, too late. For the second night in a row in the best-of-five first round tournament series with Union County, Post 48 had a hard time getting the bats going in a 4-1 loss.
“ That was a good pitcher (Tyler D’Amico) they threw at us. You can’t take anything away from him. They did a good job of keeping us off balance,” Hickory manager Allen Sigmon said. “But I felt like we stayed in there and battled for the most part. The old saying is good pitching takes care of good hitting.”
It was the second straight night the Post 48 bats were rendered ineffective by Union County pitching. On Tuesday, Hickory lost a gut-wrenching rare double no-hitter to Union County at Wingate University by the score of 1-0. Hickory managed five hits Wednesday, but only three through six innings. Post 48 didn’t score until its final at-bat when it collected its final two hits.
“ Tip your hat to him,” Sigmon said, again crediting D’Amico. “He did a good job on the mound. We’ll go on and play another day.”
Gavin Marley ended Post 48’s hitless streak against Union County pitching with a base hit through the left side of the infield in the bottom of the first inning, but it was Union County that got on the scoreboard in the second inning.
After Hickory starter Will Stewart negated a lead-off single by Trevor Grant by reading his break to second on an attempted steal, Dusty Mercer singled up the middle and stole second. Mercer scored from there on a bunt and throwing error to make the score 1-0.
The visitors added single tallies in the fourth and fifth innings to go up 3-0. Jesse Harkey doubled deep down the left field line and came around on base hit by Mercer in the fourth. In the fifth, Hardy Jackson scored as a result of another Hickory throwing error.
Post 48 did back Stewart with some strong defense. Center fielder Jack Colosimo made a diving catch of a first inning fly ball into the gap and the middle of the Hickory infield turned a pretty 4-6-3 double play to limit the damage in the fourth.
In the fifth inning, Hickory catcher Bryce Stober made a tremendous hustle play when he tracked down a wild pitch and won a foot race to home plate against the Union County base runner trying to score from third on the play.
Finally, in the seventh, Will Stewart, who moved to short when he was relieved on the mound, tracked down a line drive. Still Union County added a fourth run in that frame when Mercer doubled home Steven Gonzalez for his fourth hit and second RBI of the game.
Meanwhile, D’Amico was frustrating Hickory batters. After Marley’s first inning safety, Post 48 could only get a bunt single from Stober in the fourth and an infield single by Marley in the sixth. Post 48’s biggest threat against D’Amico came in the fourth inning when Marley led off with a free pass and Stober followed with his bunt single to put runners on first and second with no one out.
But D’Amico induced a pop foul to his third baseman, struck out the next batter and ended the brief uprising with a pop fly to center field.
Trailing 4-0 going into its final at-bat. Hickory got on the board against Union County reliever Michael Neal on an error, a bunt single by Colosimo and Connor Stewart’s single to right field that brought home Will Stewart.
Sigmon discussed trying to get his offense going in Game 3 of the series.
“ I think I’ve got to do a better job of small ball. You know we put down two bunts and got two hits out of it,” Sigmon said. “Maybe that’s what we need to do, look at more small ball, more hit and run, more putting stuff on — trying to get some movement. Maybe if we get some movement, then maybe some ground balls can see their way through.”
D’Amico struck out six and walked one while allowing three hits in six innings on the hill.
By contrast, Will Stewart worked five and one-third innings. He allowed seven hits and walked five without a strikeout. But only one of the three runs charged against him was earned.
“ He did a good job,” Sigmon said of his starter. “I think we had him for like 96, 97 pitches. That’s the most any of our pitchers have thrown for the year.’
Zane McPherson came on in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and just one out, yet got out of the mess without allowing another run. He did give up two hits and a run in the seventh inning.
“ He (McPherson) pitched well too,” Sigmon said. “We got good pitching tonight.’
Sigmon wasn’t ready to name a starter for Game 3 at 3 p.m. Thursday back at Wingate. The seventh-seeded Hickory team (6-15) needs a win against second-seeded Union County to force a Game 4 on Friday at Henkel-Alley Field.