Sandhills Lightning Take Second at Nationals
The Sandhills Lightning recently competed in the Myrtle Beach Triple Crown 15U five-day nationals tournament, taking home second place.
There were 27 baseball teams. The Lightning consistently played excellent defense and their pitching was outstanding. The Lightning finished as the runner-up after a close 10-9 loss to Team Connecticut, which has won national championships, and played together for more than seven years. The Lightning scored 56 runs in nine games.
The Sandhills Lightning responded to a loss in their opening game by winning four straight to put them in the final four. The Lightning lost to the New England Predators 4-2 in pool play. Blake Bennett went 2-3 at the plate with one home run scoring the two runs of the game. Dylan Wallace and Hayden Buffkin also contributed with doubles. Dakota Graves reached base on a single.
The Atlanta Blue Jays came close to handing the Lightning a loss when Cody Freeman took the plate in the eighth inning and hit a home run, bringing in Graves as well as himself to score two of the three runs to win the game with a 3-1 victory. Graves was the winning pitcher allowing no runs in five innings, while striking out four. Bennett came in for three innings, allowing one run while striking out eight.
The Lightning then faced the Titans for the last game of pool play and won 9-5. Dalton Bullard went 3-3 at the plate, Buffkin went 2-4 with a home run, and Bennett went 2-4. Buffkin was the winning pitcher; he pitched two scoreless innings, with three strikeouts.
Brandon Gibson came in for one inning, allowing two runs. Chris Dejak came in for four innings, allowing two runs with one strikeout, and Ward came in for two innings, allowing one run while obtaining one strikeout.
The Lightning had a win against the Harrisburg Pioneers with a score of 9-1. Wallace went 3-3 at bat while Bullard, Dejak, and Dylan Ward went 2-3. Buffkin lead them to the win on the mound only allowing one run in four innings with two strikeouts. Ward was the relief pitcher, doing an excellent job, allowing no runs.
Sandhills then faced London South Eagles and barely took the win with a score of 13-12. Buffkin showed up at the plate with a grand slam and two doubles while going 3-4 with six RBIs. Bennett contributed with two doubles. Hunter Phillips also contributed with a double.
Freeman, Bullard, Dejak and Ward gave the Lightning base runners with singles as well as Smith, Wallace, Phillips, and Dejak all having excellent at bats and earning walks to put runners in scoring positions. Graves led the team to the win on the mound while only allowing two runs in three innings. Freeman pitched three innings, allowing five runs. Dejak came in the fourth inning, allowing five runs, and Bennett closed the game not allowing any runs.
The Lightning faced the Huntington Patriots in a battle for a position in the final four. Sandhills showed up with excellent defense to take the 5-4 win. Blake Bennett was the starting pitcher, going five innings and allowing just three runs while striking out one.
Buffkin closed the game pitching the sixth and seventh innings, only allowing one run while striking out one. Graves went 3-3 at the plate. Bennett went 2-3 gaining an RBI, and Buffkin went 1-3 while gaining two RBIs. Brandon Gibson went 1-2 with a home run, gaining two RBIs. Dejak and Smith also contributed hits. The final out was made by Phillips in left field with a perfect throw to the catcher, Bullard, who got the out at the plate, preventing the Patriots from scoring the run that would have tied the game.
The Lightning faced Team Connecticut in the final four. Team Connecticut has won nine national titles, a World Series and have had 56 top 10 finishes, 38 state titles, and 45 MLB draft picks. Both teams had not lost a game since pool play, and the winner advanced to the championship game.
Bullard came through with a hit of the day in the fifth inning. Buffkin tried to rally the team with a home run, scoring the two lone RBIs of the game. Graves took the loss on the mound he pitched the first two innings, allowing five runs with four strikeouts. In the third inning Smith allowed six runs. In the fourth inning Eply came in allowing one run, with two strikeouts. Team Connecticut had excellent hits right to the gaps all day. Team Connecticut took the win 12-2.
The Lightning faced the Pontiac Valley Outlaws with the win 3-2 to advance to the championship game. Buffkin was the winning pitcher, pitching two innings and allowing only one run with one strikeout. Bennett came in for the third and fourth inning. One home run was hit which was the one lone run against Bennett. Bennett struck out four; Graves then closed the game and did not allow any runs while striking out one.
The Lightning faced Team Connecticut once more for the Championship, with Connecticut winning again 10-9. Buffkin led the offense, going 3-4 at the plate with a home run in the fourth inning. Freeman went 2-3 with a grand slam in the fifth inning. Ward went 2-3.
Every player contributed to the bats while only allowing Team Connecticut one strikeout. Devon Smith was the starting pitcher, allowing two runs in one inning; Ward came in as relief, allowing only four runs in five innings with two strikeouts. Phillips closed the game for the final two innings, allowing four runs. The Lightning finished with only one error in the field after seven innings.
Below are the identifications for the team photo on page A4:
Bottom row (from left), Jackson Smith, Dakota Graves, Chris Dejak, Devon Smith, Dylan Ward, Blake Bennett.
Top row, Dalton Bullard, Dylan Wallace, Cody Freeman, Hayden Buffkin, Brandon Gibson, Culley Bayless, Hunter Phillips, Matthew Eply.
The Lightning are coached by head coach Mike Bullard, who is assisted by Craig Phillips, Darin Ward and Berry Eply.
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