PEMBROKE — When Robeson County Post 5 went down a run in the fourth inning against Port City Post 545 Thursday night, the lower half of the Post 5 lineup came to the plate in the home half of the inning.
It was those bottom-of-the-order batters, including two players who had entered the game as defensive substitutions the half-inning before, who put Post 5 on top of Post 545 — and ultimately on top of American Legion Area II.
Post 5 won 9-5 to clinch the Area II championship, sweeping the best-of-three series against Post 545 to earn a berth in the American Legion State Tournament, which begins August 2 in Shelby.
“It’s huge; the first year we’ve had American Legion in Robeson County, and its huge to come out and win the thing,” Post 5 coach Jamie Dover said. “We’ve had some very good competition; Wilmington is very talented, well-coached, and great players. What impressed me the most is every time they answered us, we answered them; both teams answered each other, then at the end we pulled away. It could’ve gone either way and we pulled it out at the end.”
The bottom of the order and reserves that gave Post 5 the lead in the fourth was simply a microcosm of the depth the team has shown from start to finish this season, the program’s first.
“We can go (No.) 1 through the whole lineup; we’re confident with any player, with all of our players, whoever goes in there we’re confident in them,” Dover said. “Each night someone steps up a lot of times, maybe a combination of people, and tonight it was a combination. It’s been a total team effort, both nights. We subbed in different situations, our pitchers came in and did a great job, and we made some great plays, and we had big hits, a couple big bunts.”
Trailing 5-4, Gracie Godbold led off the fourth with a double and advanced on an Abigail Madden infield single. Godbold scored the tying run when Ava Jacobs grounded out to short, then a Dora Locklear infield single plated Madden.
“The (goal) definitely was score, do what you can to get the girl home, put runs on the board,” Jacobs said of her groundout.
Post 5 added two runs in the fifth, on an RBI triple by Syniah Lancaster to score Santana Anderson and an RBI groundout by Godbold to score Lancaster; they scored one more in the sixth, on a Chan Locklear sacrifice fly, for a 9-5 lead.
Jacobs relieved starter Chan Locklear in the fourth, and after allowing a single to the first batter she faced, retired the next 11 in order to finish the game, earning the win. All 12 of her outs, including a double play that erased the one hit she allowed, came on balls in play, with no strikeouts as the Post 5 defense made several strong plays.
“You have to just go in as, get the job done,” Jacobs said. “It’s not all about striking everybody out, but groundouts and popups is really big to hold people on the bases.”
“She came in and we needed that steady (presence), and she came in there and threw strikes,” Dover said. “If you’re pounding strikes with a good defense, good things usually happen.”
After a walk and a bloop single allowed a run to score for Post 545 in the top of the first, Post 5 scored two in the bottom half; Marijo Wilkes doubled to lead off the game and Chan Locklear doubled to score Wilkes, before Angelica Locklear singled to score Chan Locklear for a 2-1 lead.
“Without the leadoff batter starting stuff off, nine times out of 10 the team’s not going to follow you behind,” Wilkes said. “So I always have that in the back of my mind, that I always have to start the team off or they’re not going to follow behind me.”
Wilkes provided another spark in the second, a two-out, two-run homer to plate Dora Locklear for a 4-1 lead. The no-doubter drew oohs from the Post 5 crowd as soon as it came off the bat.
“That was really big for me because that was one of my first home runs I’ve ever hit out here, my whole high school career, during a game,” Wilkes said. “So that’s why the crowd really was cheering for me. And I think it was a big momentum thing for us, because without that a lot of people wouldn’t have followed behind me.”
“It’s not bad when your leadoff batter does that,” Dover said. “Not many teams have a leadoff batter as explosive as (Wilkes) is. She can do it with speed, doubles, beat an infield hit out, or hit a bomb; she can do it all. And she made some great plays on defense.”
Port City scored two runs in the third to pull to a 4-3 margin, then scored two more in the fourth on a Macey Ciamillo homer for a 5-4 lead.
A lot of the Post 5 team has played together through their youth, and now as they prepare for their senior year of high school or freshman year of college have earned one more milestone on the diamond.
“We’ve got a good group of girls and all our girls are there for us,” Wilkes said. “A lot of us have already played our whole lives together so this is going to be another stepping stone for us, because we’ve already been to the (Dixie Youth) World Series together, we’ve already won a lot of different little things together, conference championships, so it’s another stepping stone for us.”
Post 5 improved to 19-2-2 overall as it earned its state tournament berth, both remarkable feats for a first-year program.
“It’s the first year, we want to get the word out, and people understand what we’re doing,” Dover said. “There’s some girls that hopefully will see what we’ve done and will want to be a part of this next year. It’s a big deal, and I’m really proud this team put a stamp on it. To be the first team in Robeson County and to go out and win the area championship, that’s huge.”