At his first team meeting of the season, Texarkana, Ark., Post 58 manager Dane Peavy told his team he thought it was good enough to not only get to the American Legion World Series, but also win it.
But it wasn’t just talk. Peavy really believed it. And Tuesday night in front of 8,486 at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., his team proved it.
Against Rowan County Post 342 – which, at just 82 miles from Shelby, made it a pro-Rowan crowd – the Razorbacks (42-5) rallied from a 4-0 deficit and then won the game with a four-run 12th inning, escaping a late rally to win 8-6 and bring home the state’s first-ever ALWS title.
Nick Myers provided a tie-breaking two-run single in the top of the 12th and teammate Parker Ribble followed with a two-run double to give Post 58 an 8-4 lead. Rowan County scored two runs in the bottom of the inning before Zac Harrington got the final out to set off the Arkansas celebration.
Myers still remembers Peavy’s first meeting of the season. “(Peavy) talked about making the World Series,” Myers said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a possibility.’ We got here, got beat in our first game, made some mistakes, but now … it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”
Peavy said he saw something special in this squad that went beyond the ability to hit, pitch and field. “We knew what kind of talent we had,” he said. “We knew we needed to put it together throughout the year.
“But we also knew what kind of family we were bringing in here. These guys were close. They have the camaraderie. And when you have the mix of camaraderie and talent, it can be deadly. And I think we proved that tonight.”
Still, Rowan County wasted no time giving the crowd something to cheer. With one out in the bottom of the first, Dalton Lankford reached second on an error. Hunter Shepherd followed with a deep drive to right field that bounced just in front of the fence, bringing Dalton home for a 1-0 lead.
Tanner File reached third on an error to start the bottom of the third and came home on Chandler Blackwelder’s RBI single. Two wild pitches sandwiched around a stolen base brought Blackwelder home to give Rowan County a 3-0 advantage.
A walk and single put Jake Pritchard on third in the bottom of the fourth, setting up File’s perfect bunt single down the first-base line, scoring Pritchard to stretch the lead to 4-0.
But Texarkana used a big fifth inning to tie the game. Ribble opened with a double, Cole Vidrine singled him to third, and Riley Orr bunted himself onto first, bringing home Ribble.
Matt Goodheart walked and moved to second when Cole Boyd reached on an error, scoring Vidrine and Orr. Will Smith’s single then brought home Goodheart, tying the game at 4.
“We have the mantra that the hole is never too big,” Peavy said. “When we got down tonight 4-0, I didn’t really worry too much. I knew we were going to try to chip away. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Neither team could score again until Texarkana’s big 12th inning. Goodheart led off with a bunt single, and one out later Blake Hall doubled Goodheart to third. Smith was intentionally walked, and Myers followed with a single up the middle that scored the two lead runners.
“As soon as I saw the ball come off the bat, I can’t even describe the feeling,” Myers said. “It’s the most overwhelming feeling, just amazing.”
Parker Ribble then doubled deep into left-center field, bringing home Smith and Myers to give his team some breathing room.
“You just want to tack on as much as you can,” Ribble said. “It’s been neck and neck that whole game. I just had to help … and try to put more runs on the board.”
The runs proved critical. Rowan County closed within 8-6 in the bottom half of the inning on a Juan Garcia sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk to Chandler Blackwelder with two outs. But relief pitcher Zac Harrington stabbed Dalton Lankford’s sharp grounder to the mound, ran toward first base and then tossed the ball to Will Smith to end the game.
Harrington was the Razorbacks’ ace in 2014 but missed the 2015 season with a partial tear in his flexor tendon.
“It’s what you dream of since you’re a little kid, playing in front of a big crowd, teammates looking onto you to make a big play,” Harrington said. “I’m just glad I got the chance to.”
Texarkana used four different pitchers; Austin Cross, the third, allowed one earned run in 6.2 innings to pick up the win. North Carolina’s Bryan Ketchie (2-1) took the loss in relief of John Owen.
Rowan County, which finished 41-14, also came back from a World Series-opening loss. That the team didn’t go down without a fight in the 12th came as no surprise to Post 342 coach Jim Gantt said. “If we didn’t have that tough mentality we wouldn’t be here, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “They’re coachable and they bought into what we were trying to do. We’ve probably had many teams that were more talented than this one, but we didn’t have a better team than this one.”