MORAVIAN FALLS - Wilkes County Post 31 kept slim playoff hopes alive with an 8-4 victory over South Rowan Wednesday night in the American Legion regular-season finale.
Sitting in ninth place in the South Division standings at 5-12 - with the top eight teams advancing into the postseason - the Patriots needed a win in their final game and a higher-seeded squad to stumble to back into the playoff picture.
“I’m glad we played well [tonight],” head coach Terry Johnson said. “We pitched really well and in situations where they were threatening us, we made some big plays. We hit well too, for at least the first half of the game.”
“It’s nice to go out with a win,” he added.
Former Starmount ace Alex Barr gave Post 31 a chance with six solid innings on the mound. Barr gave up four runs on two hits, while punching out five.
The Patriots took advantage of the strong outing, plating runs in the first three frames to take an early 5-0 advantage.
In the first, Starmount grad Dillon Dobson drew a four-pitch walk before stealing second and third. Stefan Susi (Wilkes Central) followed with an RBI double to left to bring home the first run of the game.
Aggressive base-running brought home another run in the second. Hank Prevette (Wilkes Central) stole second after reaching on an error. While attempting to swipe third, the catcher’s throw sailed into the outfield, allowing Prevette to trot home.
Dobson jump-started a three-run third inning with a lead-off walk. Two batters later, West Wilkes slugger Alex Minton brought home his future Appalachian State teammate with a deep sacrifice fly to left.
After recent Elkin graduate Hayden Snow drew a walk to load the bases, Prevette and Brandon Pruitt (Wilkes Central) roped back-to-back RBI singles to left to extend the lead to 5-0.
South Rowan took advantage of four Barr walks in the next three innings to climb back in the game, scoring twice in the fourth and sixth to trim the lead to 5-4.
But for a team that has lacked resiliency this season, Post 31 responded with another three-run frame in the home-half of the sixth to cushion its lead.
Six straight batters reached to open the inning as Minton brought home two on a run-scoring single to right after Jordan Carlton (Wilkes Central) scored on a pass ball.
From there, two former Eagles Christian Triplett and Aaron Sparks shut down South Rowan to preserve the 8-4 victory.
Dobson lead Post 31 offensively, reaching base in all five plate appearances - three walks and two base hits - while scoring three runs. Barr finished 0-for-2 at the dish with a sac bunt as Snow went 1-for-4.
With the win, Wilkes capped a 6-12 season, finishing two games out of a four-way tie for fifth-place and a guaranteed playoff berth. But the Patriots might sneak in after two clubs are being investigated for using an illegal player, forcing a forfeit of every game that player appeared in, giving Wilkes a de facto spot.
“There is still a chance for us to get in,” Johnson explained. “What I’m being told is that Kannapolis has been using an illegal player and may be kicked out. Mooresville is another story. Supposedly, they have a kid or two was not released by all the teams he needed to be released by. The rule states, you have to be released by the first game you play in, and I was told their coaches got those releases signed this past weekend.
“Again, this is all hearsay; I have no proof,” he continued. “We should know something by Saturday. If one gets kicked out, we are the first team in. I would love to play and the kids would love to play, if it happens, we’ll tee it up and play.”
The outcome of that investigation is not available at the time of publication. Playoffs are set to begin Monday night.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.