Next stop, Cherryville.
The long-awaited ticket on this summer-long journey is courtesy of Will Pennington and Logan Merritt.
Pennington tossed a masterful complete game and Merritt delivered a crucial late-game hit to propel Wayne County Post 11 past nemesis Pitt County Post 39 on Saturday evening.
The 5-2 conquest clinched the Area I East title and a berth in the NC Senior American Legion state tournament for the first time since 2014.
“Will was really, really good,” WC head coach Pate said. “Good things happen to good people and there’s some kids you’re really glad to see how well they do, and he’s one of those kids. He’s always ready when his name is called.
“When he gets out there, he turns into the ultimate competitor and he wanted to go the full game. Our bullpen was ready to go.”
Ty Johnson’s two-RBI single pushed Pitt in front, 2-1, in the top half of the second inning. Post 39 wouldn’t generate any additional offense against the Post 11 hurler, who permitted just two hits the rest of the way.
Pennington never allowed a lead-off batter to reach base. On the night, he induced the 39ers into 13 flyouts, four groundouts and three strikeouts.
A sixth-inning double play and game-ending strikeout enabled Wayne County to secure its 12th East title in program history and first with Pate as head coach.
“That double play by Davis was big-time because I don’t know if I’d be able to finish the game if he didn’t make that play,” Pennington said. “I feel pretty good and feel very glad my coaches had the confidence to put me out there in a game like that.
“I was throwing all my pitches for strikeouts and I knew our offense was good enough to win the game. I just had to keep my team in it by throwing strikes and giving us a chance.”
Trailing through 4 1/2 innings, Wayne County finally got the offensive push it needed in the fifth.
Campbell Cunningham notched the game-tying run after Post 39’s defense bobbled a grounder from Rowan Watt. Will Albert plated Sam Rice with a single and hung around on the basepath when Justin Holland reached on an error.
That set the table for Merritt.
“I know Adam had a lot of faith in me after he had told Justin to pass the stick, so I had to have faith in myself,” Merritt said.
The Methodist University commit answered with a two-RBI single.
“He threw a fastball outside, I poked at it and it found a hole in shallow right field. It ended up working out pretty good,” Merritt said. “We didn’t have the hits fall for us the night before, but they fell this time.”
Wayne County secured its ninth trip to the state tournament in program history.
Wayne County 5, Pitt County 2
Offensive leaders: Rowan Watt (RBI), Will Albert 1-2 (RBI, SB, run scored), Justin Holland (run scored), Logan Merritt 2-3 (3 RBI), Sam Rice (run scored).
Notable history: Wayne County and Pitt have met in 10 East championship encounters since 1993. WC holds a 6-4 advantage and is 29-19 during that stretch.
Records: Wayne County 22-5, Pitt County 11-4.
Next game: Wednesday, vs. Cherryville Post 100 at Cherryville