HOLLY SPRINGS — In each game of its doubleheader against the Garner Nationals Saturday afternoon at Holly Springs High School, Raleigh Post 1 rallied for three runs in its last at bat.
The late game offensive surges resulted in an important split with Raleigh completing the comeback for a 4-3 Game 1 victory while falling just short in the second contest, 5-4.
Entering the day undefeated in the American Legion Area I West Conference, Raleigh manager Aaron Rich was aiming to get at least a split, seeing the Nationals as a potential stumbling block to remaining on top of the standings by seasons end.
Post 1 (9-3 overall, 6-1 Area I West) was led by one of its strengths, its deep pitching staff that entered the day with a 2.55 ERA, as six pitchers combined to limit Garner to eight runs for the day.
We were just looking for the split today and we got it, Rich said. Eight runs allowed against them in two games? Ill take that all day against them.
In the first contest of the day, it looked as though all Garner would need would be three runs to get the job done as Brett Daniels provided five strong innings for the Nationals, allowing just one run on two hits and ending his outing with a 3-1 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, however, Raleigh finally got the bats going.
Jack Conley, one of Raleighs most dangerous hitters, led off with a bunt single and proceeded to steal second base. Sam Duncan doubled home Conley to trim the Garner lead to a run.
Blake Morgan also reached base on a bunt single before Garner reliever Brighton Hudsons balk advanced Blake to second while plating Duncan.
After advancing to third base on a groundout, Blake scored the eventual game winning run when a dropped third strike necessitated a throw to first base to get Micah Goodwin out, allowing Blake to trot home.
After allowing the leadoff man to get on base in the top of the seventh, Will Hibbard, who came on in relief for Korey Behanna in the fifth inning, retired the final three Garner batters in succession to nail down the win.
We dont quit, Rich added. Weve just got to start putting it together a little earlier.
In Game 2, Garner once again jumped out to a lead on the strength of another quality start, this time from Jordan Bissette. Bissette similarly provided five solid innings as he kept Post 1 off the scoreboard in scattering four singles.
Saylon Kieft and Brett Daniels each drove in a run in the top of the first with RBI singles off of Raleigh starter Corey Brassington to provide an early two-run advantage.
The Nationals (12-3, 3-3) added to their lead in the top of the fifth when Lucas Scott scored Ryan Wheeler and Taylor Stephens with a base hit up the middle.
Daniels followed suit and collected his third hit of the game to plate Saylon Kieft for the 5-0 lead.
After scraping together a run in the bottom of the sixth, Raleigh Post 1 threatened to deliver a repeat come-from-behind performance in the seventh inning, something they had done in five of their first six conference victories.
A single from Conley, a walk issued by Garner relief pitcher Josh Greene and a catcher interference call combined to load the bases for Post 1 with just one out.
Dabney smacked a base hit to centerfield to score Conley and bring the potential game-winning run to the plate in the form of Austin Walker.
Walkers grounder up the middle led to a force out at second but allowed Morgan to score from third and then Brassington was allowed to race home from second base when an errant throw trying to secure the double play sailed past Garners Nick Yarbrough at first.
Josh Greene helped the Nationals to finally close the game out however as he coaxed a groundout from John Woods to end Garners three-game losing streak.
This week weve been short-handed, Garner coach Chris Cook said. We had 18 hits against (Apex) last night but we didnt have the arms and we were winning for the majority of today.
Well get better.
Just a few days ago, it was tough to imagine the Nationals needing to get better.
Garner sat at 11-0 before consecutive losses to Rocky Mount, Apex and Raleigh.
On Friday night, the Nationals led Apex Post 124 by an 8-1 margin before dropping a 16-12 slugfest.
The tough stretch of six conference games in seven days with a short-handed roster thanks to injuries and players attending college orientations was scheduled to end with a second matchup against Apex Monday night.
(Our mindset is) just to get ready for the playoffs, Cook said. We wont be full strength until the playoffs.
When the playoffs get here, I think well be ready.
As for Post 1, the goal now is to try to match its best ever conference mark from two seasons ago when Raleigh dropped just one game in conference play.
The luxury for Rich is a talented team from top to bottom.
This is the deepest team Ive ever had, hands down, Rich said. Our 18th guy could start for me and I wouldnt notice a difference. We have a lot of pitching and a lot of speed.
Weve got a good group of guys.