Jul. 16—PEMBROKE — As of next week, there will be eight junior American Legion teams still playing in the state of North Carolina.
The Pembroke Post 50 team may be in its first year of existence — but they're part of that elite group.
Post 50 beat West Brunswick Post 503 in consecutive playoff games this week, sweeping a best-of-three series to determine the Area II South Division champion and advance to the state tournament next week.
"At the end of the day, it's all about them," Post 50 coach Tim Carter said. "Those kids have put in the time and effort — especially on the days we're not playing. They show up, they work out — and you can see it. ... We just separated ourselves, and that is because of the work that they've put in."
Carter has repeatedly said the team's success has exceeded any expectations he, assistant coach Ethan Chavis and Purnell Swett coach Jeff Lamb, who teamed up to put the program together, had to begin the season.
After the team's victory Thursday, Carter said that the season has been a success not just on the field, but off of it as well.
"I enjoy doing this, and I hope this helps all the high schools in the area to get better," Carter said. "But it also gives me an opportunity not just to teach these kids about baseball, but about life in itself too. Me being a minister, it gives me an opportunity to tell them about things they need to think about."
The state tournament begins Thursday in High Point; games will be played both at historic Finch Field and at Truist Point, home of the High Point Rockers, the independent-league pro team.
In the second game of the playoff series Thursday in Shallotte, Pembroke Post 50 earned an 8-5 win to clinch the title.
After the game was tied 2-2 for much of the middle innings, Pembroke struck to take an six-run lead in the fifth.
"We got the bases loaded and they made a few mistakes, and we ... ended up making it 8-2," Carter said.
Two of West Brunswick's runs after that point came after a Pembroke error in the outfield, but "from there, Chandon (Sanderson) shut the door," Carter said. Sanderson pitched the entire game to earn the win.
"Chandon threw the ball very well," Carter said. "I don't think he gave up more than four or five hits."
Tim Hammonds, Sam Brewington and Waydan McMillan led the offensive production for Pembroke.
"It was a good ballgame," Carter said. "It was tough there for about four innings and we kind of blew it open in the fifth, and from there I think they were done."
In the series opener Wednesday in Pembroke, Post 50 was one out away from a combined no-hitter by starter Jacob Chavis and reliever Keithyn Hunt — then a clean single by Ty Walker snuck into center field.
"I might have to get Keithyn for letting that hit go through," Chavis said with a smile.
But Post 50 had plenty of consolation, winning the first game of the series 10-2 behind the arms of Chavis and Hunt and the equally-strong bats throughout the lineup.
Post 50 would have to settle for a playoff win as consolation.
"We came out, we swung the bats very well, that put us in a lead and got us comfortable a little bit, so they had to play from behind," Carter said. "Jacob threw the ball very well; he struggled the first inning, but he came out and threw the ball very well, and then Keithyn comes in and just closes the door."
Chavis' pitching performance came before he left the team Thursday to play in the Native American All-Star Baseball Showcase Sunday in Atlanta, along with Post 50 teammate Malachi Gales. Chavis allowed two unearned runs over five innings with four walks and four strikeouts. Keithyn Hunt pitched the final two innings, striking out three with one walk before allowing the lone West Brunswick hit of the game.
"(It was) just hitting my spots and and staying dialed in throughout the game, and letting my fielders work for me again," Chavis said. "I got a couple fly balls, a couple ground balls — just working as a team."
While Chavis didn't allow a hit, that doesn't mean his night lacked drama; he bookended his outing with jams. The right-hander started the game with consecutive walks; one of the runners was caught stealing before a groundout and a strikeout got him out of the inning.
"First inning, I just wasn't focused from the very beginning," Chavis said. "But then I started to lock in, hitting my spots, and letting my team work again for me."
Chavis retired the side in the next three innings, before walking the first two batters in the fifth; West Brunsick scored two runs on a wild pitch and an RBI groundout before Chavis stranded two runners on base.
An early offensive explosion allowed Chavis to pitch with some breathing room after the first inning; Pembroke (11-2) scored seven runs over the first two innings, with three in the first, with RBIs from Riley Locklear, Cam Hunt and Keithyn Hunt, and four in the second, with a two-run triple by Chavis and RBI doubles from Locklear and Keithyn Hunt.
"The quicker you can gain this momentum the better off you're going to be," Carter said. "It's very big, and that's I tried to tell them — come out and play, get the momentum, keep it on your side as long as you can keep it, and it's going to take us into tomorrow, because now they've got to figure out 'OK, what do we do to combat the hits that (Post 50) had.'"
Chavis' RBI groundout in the fourth made it 8-0; Keithyn Hunt drove in two more runs with a sixth-inning single, making it 10-2.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.