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Late rally sends N.C. to Series

With four runs in the sixth, North Carolina defeats Virginia 4-2.

By ROVEN YAU
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002


GULFPORT -- Forget the beach. The Southwest Forsyth Little League team is heading to the World Series after a 4-2 victory over Virginia at the Southeast Regional tournament Saturday.

North Carolina overcame a two-run deficit in the top of the sixth and was two outs from losing when the comeback began.

With one out, pinch-hitter David McConnell worked Virginia starter Tyler Milstead for a single up the middle. North Carolina starter Alex Robertson hit a 1-0 pitch off the leftfield wall for a stand-up double. Catcher Chris Sanders then drove in McConnell to cut the Virginia lead to 2-1.

Milstead intentionally walked rightfielder David Morgan to set up a potential game-ending double play.

But Chad Gentry had other ideas.

The right-handed hitting Gentry lined a first-pitch fastball into the rightfield corner, chasing home the tying and winning runs.

"I was thinking curveball," Gentry said. "But when I saw fastball I just stuck my bat out there."

Scott Riggsbee added another run for North Carolina with an RBI single just out of the reach of Virginia shortstop Kyle Craun.

North Carolina's Robertson finally overcame the fifth-inning fatigue that plagued him during his first two tournament starts. Robertson had a no-hitter through five innings Monday against South Carolina when heat and a high pitch count forced coach John Scott to pull him.

"I was getting kind of scared," Sanders said. "He was getting nervous because we didn't have any runs going into the fifth. But I always have confidence in my pitcher."

Robertson allowed a pair of Virginia runs in the top of the fifth. Virginia's first run scored on a wild pitch, and a second scored on a mental lapse by the North Carolina defense.

With runners at first and third and no outs, Virginia's Trenton Simmons hit a grounder to Riggsbee covering first. Riggsbee threw home trying to cut down Daniel Bowman at the plate, but Sanders forgot that there wasn't a forceout and did not tag the runner.

Even after a shaky fifth, Scott said he had no intention of replacing Robertson.

"Never entered my mind," Scott said. "Unless he had some kind of physical breakdown in his arm. He is our ace and he is our big man. We'll give him the ball and he'll go the distance for us."

Robertson bared down to strike out Tristin Sly and Justin Chittum to get out of the inning. Robertson finished the game with 10 strikeouts.

"I thought we had him on the ropes a couple of times," Virginia coach Tom Bocock said. "But he fought through it and he came out in the sixth inning and he was tough. He was rejuvenated."

Robertson struck out Virginia cleanup hitter Neil Odell for the final out with overpowering fastballs.

"He was throwing hard," Sanders said. "Harder than I've ever seen him throw."

With the win, Southwest Forsyth became the second team from North Carolina to represent the South region in Williamsport, Pa. Greenville won the tournament in 1998.

The Little League World Series begins Friday.

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