HAMLET — Two “bad pitches” were the difference maker for the Hamlet American Legion baseball team during Friday’s regular-season finale.
Needing a win to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Area 2 conference standings, Hamlet let the long ball do damage in a 6-3 loss to Wilmington Post 10.
An early lead came undone in the fifth and sixth innings, as Wilmington sent two home runs over the wall in right field to score four unanswered runs.
“We jumped on them early like we wanted to and I thought we pitched and played defense well,” head coach Chip Gordon said. “But we made two bad pitches and they made us pay for it.
“They hit it to the shortest part of the ballpark and took advantage of the short porch in right,” he added. “That was really the turning point in the game. We did a few things wrong and we have to run the bases better than we did in the sixth. We can’t get picked off with the leadoff guy up and a runner in scoring position.”
Hunter Huneycutt, who’s signed to play at App State, started on the hill for Hamlet. He threw 6.1 innings and allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits. He added a pair of strikeouts and three walks.
Post 10 used a leadoff double and an error to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Huneycutt helped himself out of the inning by picking off a runner at second with shortstop Tristan Hunt applying the tag. That was followed by a fly out and a ground out.
Patience at the plate in the home half yielded all three of Hamlet’s runs in the game. Facing starter Aiden McBride (5 IP, three runs, two hits), eight batters went to the box.
Hamlet loaded the bases thanks to an error on a Huneycutt grounder, a single from Jackson Kuhn that ricocheted off McBride and a walk to Markey Purvis. Ryley Norton recorded the team’s lone run batted in when he drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs.
Two pitches later, Carter Bean put a ball in play to the left side of the infield. What should have been a routine play resulted in a throwing error, giving both Kuhn and Purvis time to race home.
Taking a 3-1 lead back to the mound, Huneycutt retired Wilmington in order on 13 pitches. A leadoff single was erased when Huneycutt picked off the runner at first base.
Post 10 cut its deficit to one run in the top of the third after a lineout to Eythan Reynolds at second base. While attempting to double off a runner at second, an errant throw allowed him to score.
Hamlet left Purvis on base (walk) in the bottom half, but Huneycutt mowed through the lineup on just six pitches in the fourth.
On the first pitch of the fifth inning, Cameron Matthews sent a solo home run to right field to knot the game 3-3.
Hunt led off Hamlet’s part of the inning with a double that banged off the Wilbur Dome wall in right-center, but a pair of fly outs and a ground out failed to score him.
Wilmington used back-to-back doubles to start the sixth and put runners on second and third. Conner Maren drove in the final runs of the game with a three-run shot to right.
Hamlet tried to rally in the sixth, getting two runners on base. Bean reached on a dropped third strike to the backstop and Ashton Phifer lined a single to left field off reliever Coleton Norris (2 IP, two hits).
But a miscue on the base paths ended the inning.
After recording the first out of the seventh and allowing a single, Huneycutt was replaced with Skyler Mathis (0.2 IP, one hit). Norton and Hunt turned a 3-6-3 double play to end the half-inning.
Down to its final three outs, Hamlet went down on four batters. Kuhn poked a two-out single to right for his second hit of the game, but a strikeout left him stranded.
“I thought we played well enough to win,” Gordon said. “We told the guys after the game we have to start having more quality at-bats versus self at-bats. There was a leadoff double in the fifth and we’re looking to hit a ball backside to move the runner, but we couldn’t do that.
“We’re going to clean up a few things, and the good thing is we start the playoffs 0-0,” he closed. “We’ll play whoever it is and start back fresh.”
Hamlet finished the regular season with an 10-8 overall record and a 5-3 mark in Area 2 conference play.
Gordon said the Area 2 conference tournament brackets will be released over the weekend and Hamlet will find out its seeding and opponent for next week’s series then.
The Richmond Observer will publish a photo gallery of Friday’s game soon.