Game 1
4 vs. Southeast 10
Friday, August 20, 2004
1:00PM ET

Tallent-ed bats spark Southeast
North Carolina settles down to take LLWS opener over Davenport, Iowa

By Mike Lipka

The first game of the Little League Baseball World Series had barely started, and Trevor Tallent could have been the goat, but he ended up being one of the heroes in a 10-4 victory for the Southeast Region champions.

The Morganton, N.C., center fielder moved back to snag Jacob Gibson’s fly ball to right-center with two outs in the top of the first, and the next thing the 6,842 at Volunteer Stadium knew, the ball was off Tallent’s glove and into the bushes beyond the 205-foot marker. 2-0, Davenport, Iowa.

“When I dropped the ball, I was really disappointed,” Tallent said. “But I got over it.”

It didn’t take long, either. His chance for redemption came in the bottom of the second, with his Southeast squad trailing the Midwest 3-2 in the Pool A opener. Wasting no time, Tallent smoked line-drive three-run homer off the base of the TV tower in center, giving an offensive Morganton team the lead for good en route to an explosive win.

“As has happened in the past, the hitting pulled us through this time,” said Morganton Manager Alan Lail. “Yesterday, the day before yesterday, and this morning we’ve been hitting well in practice. I expect us to continue hitting well.”

They certainly did Friday afternoon, but not after some struggles on defense. A squad that prides itself on always being loose (Lail and a few players were dancing on the field with a mascot minutes before the first pitch) came out understandably tight with nerves in the first few innings on the big stage.

After Gibson’s fluky home run in the first, Iowa jumped ahead again in the second on a two-out double by Joseph Black and an RBI single by Cody Perrault. But that’s when Morganton settled in.

“It’s just natural to have nerves at the beginning of a World Series game,” said North Carolina pitcher Eli Lawson, who allowed only one unearned run on three hits over the final four innings of his eight-strikeout, complete-game win. “In the third or fourth inning, I got my confidence back, and it was good from then on out.”

As Lawson started mowing down Iowa hitters, the Southeast champs were just getting fired up. Morganton, dressed in North Carolina Tar Heel blue, padded its lead to 8-4 on a two-run home run by Chris Fine in the fourth, then capped the onslaught with two more on a hit, a walk and a throwing error in the fifth.

“The first pitch, I gripped the bat really tight,” said Fine, who went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs. “But then I said, ‘All right, I’m just trying to hit a line drive.’ So I loosened my hands up and just swung. Next thing I knew, it went over the fence.”

That was a problem for Midwest ace Trevor Kenyon, who never seemed to overcome his early-inning jitters, as he walked six and allowed eight runs in four innings to take the loss. In addition to the home runs in the second and fourth, North Carolina plated a pair in the first on three walks, a hit and a passed ball.

“They hit the mistakes that we made, a couple of home runs on pitches that were curveballs up [in the strike zone],” said Davenport Manager Thomas Kenyon, Jr. “It hurts obviously that we threw our No. 1 pitcher. The kids have been down before, so having lost a game is not something that’s critical to us.”

But the win could be critical for North Carolina, which put itself in great position to advance to single-elimination with two games left in pool play – especially since it’s now over the early-tournament jitters.

“The first win is very big,” said Lail, whose top three hitters (Aaron Attaway, Fine and Tallent) combined for eight runs scored. “We always have two or three step up and pull us through every game.”

And so he expects to have the same kind of outcome when the Southeast squad is next in action Sunday against the West squad from Thousand Oaks, Calif. But spectators shouldn’t expect an encore of Lail’s dancing.

“You will not see that again,” he laughed.

Click here for box scores.

Photography by Caroline Connolley

© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated