The Mint Hill Army Junior American Legion baseball team didn’t celebrate much when they won the region tournament to advance to the state tournament. The state championship celebration also was relatively small.
They expected to win this year.
“Going into the season we were very optimistic about our chances to not only make the state tournament but win it,” said Dan Kerr, who is in his second year coaching the Legion team. “We brought back 8 or 9 kids from last summer on a team that made it to the second round and they came back with a mentality that they’re going to win the whole thing. ...
“For them to make it that far didn’t surprise them at all.”
Mint Hill beat Kernersville two games in a row to win the double elimination Junior American Legion State tournament July 23 at East Forsyth High. The championship is the first state title for any team at the Mint Hill post, according to Kerr.
The team, which is made up of rising juniors and seniors from Independence, Porter Ridge, Central Academy of Technology & Arts and Charlotte Catholic, started the season with a 17-game win streak. It didn’t lose in the regular season.
“We kind of expected it,” said Kerr, who also coaches at Queen’s Grant. “We knew in our conference there wasn’t another team that could hold a candle to us. As long as we came to play, we knew we were going to win.”
Army was led by a pitching staff that had a combined 1.53 ERA on the season. Cameron Mongan (Porter Ridge) had a 1.09 ERA in 44.2 innings with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks. James Hickes (Independence) had a 0.42 ERA in 33.2 innings with 25 strikeouts and 14 walks. Independence’s Braden Roark (2.41 ERA) and CATA’s Dillon Hardy (2.39 ERA) also pitched significant innings for Mint Hill.
The team combined to hit .351 on the season. Jordan May (Independence) hit .349 with two homeruns and 15 RBIs. Hickes had a .383 average with 20 RBIs. Hardy and Josh Scango (Porter Ridge) had 17 RBIs each and Triston Glover (Independence) hit .393 with 19 RBIs.
Mint Hill suffered its first loss of the season in the final four of the Region IV tournament 2-3 to South Caldwell. The team had to win their next game against Rutherford to advance to the state tournament. Mint Hill won 7-4.
Army started the state tournament July 19 with a 5-1 win against Chatham. It lost its second game of the season the next day 2-4 to Kernersville. Like the first loss, that loss motivated the team.
“They didn’t get down,” said Kerr. “It really motivated them because they knew that they were a better team than both of the teams they lost to so it got them mad and it made them want to beat those teams even more the next time. It made my job easy. I didn’t have to push them to motivate them.”
Mint Hill beat South Caldwell 3-1 in the next game, making up for the first loss and advancing to the state tournament final. The double-elimination format of the tournament meant Mint Hill had to beat Kernersville twice to win. One loss would give the championship to Kernersville.
Mint Hill won the first game 9-3.
The team played the second game just a few hours later. Kernersville jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first inning, but Army fought back, retaking the lead 5-3 in the fourth inning.
In the top of the eight inning, May, who hit for the cycle in the game, hit a two-run home run to give Mint Hill a 7-5 lead. The team would go on to win 8-5.
“That’s when all their emotion burst out of them,” Kerr said about the home run. “Once he hit that they were just like, ‘It’s over, that’s it. See ya.’ We know our pitchers are good enough to close it out and our defense can back them up so he hit that, that was kind of our celebration. It was amazing to see, it really was.”