ROCKY MOUNT — A heartbreaking playoff loss can debilitate a team. But in Raleigh Post 1's case, it has motivated them.
Post 1 lost a thriller to Rocky Mount Coleman-Pitt Post 58, 9-8 in 11 innings Wednesday night at American Legion Field.
But instead of hanging their heads, Post 1's coaches and players relished the chance to come back in Game 4 of the best-of-5 series and finish off the Area 1 West semifinal playoff they led 2-1.
"I think we're going to come in, shut the door and get out of here with a win and play the winner of Garner-Apex on Sunday," Post 1 coach Aaron Rich said.
Rich was out of his uniform after the game after being ejected for arguing a controversial call in the top of the ninth. His team trailed 7-1 but rallied with four runs in the bottom of the seventh and two in the eighth to tie the game.
But in the top of the ninth, Post 58 had runners on first and third with one out when pitcher Jack Conley was called for a balk that gave Post 58 an 8-7 lead.
"I did not see a balk," Post 1 catcher John Woods said. "It would've been a balk had he stopped fully, but he did not stop fully. He continued to bring his leg towards him. In MLB rules, which is what we play, that is not a balk. They missed that call 100 percent of the time."
Rich undoubtedly agreed and rushed the field to argue. He was tossed after a brief but heated discussion, and then hung around outside the Post 1 dugout before umpires later forced him to leave the stadium.
"It's the ninth inning in a conference playoff game, and you want to make that call?" Rich said. "That's ridiculous. I'm going to stick up for my guys. I tried to get a little spark. It worked for a little bit, but we didn't finish."
Post 1 shortstop Trey Hogan came up big with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game again, but Post 58 worked out of bases-loaded jam to send the game to extra innings.
In the 11th, Blake Helms' two-out single put Post 58 up 9-8, and Post 1 left another runner on base in the 11th as the game ended.
Despite the late-inning heroics, Post 1 had plenty of chances to score more runs. Post 1 left 14 runners on base after the first three innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the fourth and ninth.
"We left so many people on base," Rich said. "This game should've been over. We knew they were going to run out of pitching, and we kept chipping and chipping and chipping away. At some point, we thought the dam would break, and it broke, but just not all the way we needed to go."
Corey Brassington was scheduled to start Game 4, which was postponed Thursday due to weather. Post 1 hoped to jump on top quickly in that game, close the series and prepare for the West finals, a best-of-5 series scheduled to begin Sunday.
"That's one thing we haven't done all year, is score runs in the first couple innings," Woods said. "That'd be nice if we could get up and get ahead so we won't have to do all that crazy stuff at the end like we normally do."