South wins Peeler title: Penniger’s 9th-inning homer propels Raiders
By David Shaw
Anyone who hasn’t heard of Preston Penninger can check with Davie County for a reference.
With one swing of his bat Monday night, the South Rowan freshman ended a drama-filled, nine-inning battle in the Cliff Peeler Classic championship game. And with that same swing ó one that produced a walk-off, two-run home run at Salisbury High School ó South gained a 5-3 victory and its first Easter tournament crown in 12 years.
“I’m just glad we came out on top,” said Penninger, a 15-year old catcher who blasted a 1-0 fastball from Davie reliever Clint Howell over the left-field fence. “They were throwing it pretty good and keeping us off-balance. I was just trying to hit it hard somewhere and help the team.”
Penninger’s first varsity home run gave South (10-2) its first Peeler title since 1996 and forced defending champ Davie (9-2) to abdicate the throne.
“I’ve seen that kid play for a long time,” Davie coach Mike Herndon said. “He’s always been able to hit. I’ve just never seen him hit one that far.”
For South coach Linn Williams, it was a cool way to wrap up a cool evening. Confined to the dugout for questioning a call in the sixth inning, he helped the celebrating Raiders turn the home plate area into a mosh pit.
“It does feel good,” Williams said. “It’s one of those things, before I quit coaching, that I wanted to have. I’m real happy my seniors and the rest of my guys were able to get me one.”
They got it in a roundabout way. Davie built and squandered leads of 1-0 and 2-1 against South right-hander Michael Morgan, then left the bases loaded against winning pitcher Jordan Lowder in both the eighth and ninth innings.
“It was a game of blown opportunities for the War Eagles,” Herndon said. “We got picked off at first base twice. We hadn’t been making errors but we made three of ’em ó one on a double-play ball ó and they took advantage.
“Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”
It went South’s way in the bottom of fifth inning, when Penninger sparked a two-run rally by drawing a leadoff walk from Davie starter Garrett Benge. Then Blake Houston skipped a grounder to second baseman Zeb Cope, who misplayed the ball. Following a fielder’s choice and a stolen base, the Raiders had two runners in scoring position with two outs.
That brought up infielder Maverick Miles ó a sophomore who went 6-for-12 with seven RBIs in three tournament games. He served a clutch, two-run single into left field to give South a 3-2 lead.
Davie tied the score an inning later when Benge coaxed a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on Jess Cartner’s single up the middle.
It remained tied through the seventh and eight innings. South’s winning rally began when Matt Ingold opened the last of the ninth with a bloop single to right against hard-throwing DC pitcher Howell. One out later Penninger sent the crowd home with a round-tripper that was in the books while it was still in the air.
“The way this game was going, it was gonna come down to whoever made the first mistake,” Ingold said. “It was an amazing swing ó no doubt about it.”
Well, not from Penninger’s perspective.
“I was hoping it would get to the gap,” he said. “But in a way, I knew it had a chance to go out by the way it came off the bat. I got it good.”
NOTES: South hadn’t allowed a run in 17 innings before Davie’s Jess Cartner lined a run-scoring double in the top of the first. He had three hits and two RBIs. … Benge made his first start since 2006 and yielded only one earned run in five innings. …Penninger was 3-for-8 in the tournament with two extra-base hits. Teammate Ryan Bostian was named South’s tourney MVP, while third baseman Zach Russell-Myers was honored for Davie.
Contact David Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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