Rockdale went through their regular season and Georgia state championship schedule with a 30-1 record, but that didn't prevent it from becoming the visiting team during its opening game in the American Legion baseball Southeast Regional at Riley Park in Sumter, S.C. Thursday.
Wilmington Post 10 was the last team to bat in the nine-inning slugfest, and Chance Shepard made the valuable bottom-half-of-the-inning count with a two-RBI hit to sink Post 77 9-8.
Rockdale will now have to come back through the elimination bracket for a chance at the American Legion World Series, starting against the loser of Sumter vs. Fort Pierce today at noon.
Shepard finished the game 3-for-5, including the tournament's first home run, and also had a walk, two runs scored and six runs batted in. The homer was a two-run blast over the right field fence in the fifth as North Carolina scored three runs to take a 4-3 lead.
The lead held until the eighth inning when Georgia put up five to take a seemingly insurmountable 8-4 lead. North Carolina starter Bryan Sammons, who struck out eight and walked two while giving up seven hits and four earned runs, opened the inning by surrendering a single to Cody Wofford.
Kenny Lanier faced the next nine batters, four of which reached on base hits and two on walks. Robert Bell singled in one run and Fred Williams drove in two with a triple down the right field line. A Greg Preston grounder brought home the final Post 77 run of the inning before Gray Brooks came on to induce an inning-ending Keith Buckhault fly ball to left with his only pitch of the inning.
North Carolina answered with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, spurred by a 2-RBI double from Shepard. Brooks then set Georgia down in order in the top of the ninth to keep the score at 8-7 heading to the bottom of the inning.
Wofford retired the first two batters he faced before Jack Faircloth laced a single to right. Christian Wolfe, who was 4-for-5 with a stolen base and three runs scored, drew an intentional walk to set up a force at each base. However, Wofford then walked Steven Linkous to load the bases and set the table for Shepard.
"We were just trying to get back to the top of the order," said Wilmington head coach Scott Sandlin. "Christian had been hitting the ball well, Link gets on base for us and, of course, Chance was swinging a big stick today. We felt like if we could get to one of those three, then we were going to have a shot. We were a little impatient early and then Jack came through with a big hit there and it kind of put a little pressure on them, got them to thinking a little bit, and then it just kind of went our way after that."
Rockdale coach Jack Murphy said he dodged the hot hand in walking leadoff hitter Wolfe, putting runners at first and second and setting up a force at any base, but then the strategy backfired with the walk of Linkous.
"When we walked the guy we wanted to get out, that put their best hitter probably at the plate," Murphy said. "He singled, two runs (in) and that's the old ball game. Sometimes the moves work and sometimes they don't. Today wasn't our day, but we had an 11-game winning streak coming into this thing so we'll have to start another streak tomorrow."
Bell, Jeremy Sparks and Randy Loew each had two hits for Georgia, with Sparks scoring twice, Loew driving in two and Bell scoring one and driving in one.
Shane Shepard and Sam Foy both added two hits for North Carolina. Foy singled Shepard home in Post 10's 3-run fifth.
North Carolina, which improved to 34-7 on the season, will take on the winner of the game between Sumter and Florida state champion Fort Pierce 358 today at approximately 7 p.m.