MILLSBORO — Avery Dabney toed the pitching rubber with a clear mind, his fingers gripped for a curveball and his eyes locked on the strike zone.
Dover had gotten contributions from up and down its roster with the state title on the line. Dabney was just pulled off the bench as Dover searched for the final two outs, so it was his turn to play his part in the victory.
Dabney struck out the last two batters to escape from a bases-loaded jam, Michael Baker had the game-winning hit an inning prior and Dover captured the Junior League state crown with an 8-7 victory over Lower Sussex at Millsboro Little League on Saturday night.
Dover advanced to the East Regional, in Freehold, N.J. Its first game will be at 1:30 p.m on Friday.
The two teams had to play two seven-inning games Saturday. Lower Sussex won the first 5-4 to battle its way into the winner-take-all contest.
“They never gave up,” said Dover manager Michael Davis of his squad. “I know we dropped that first game but I knew they were going to work hard and they did. This team is hungry, they get themselves motivated.”
With the game tied 7-7 in the bottom of the sixth, Baker was up with two strikes, two outs and two runners in scoring position.
He poked a soft liner up the middle which dropped and allowed the eventual winning run to score.
“I was thinking I could not strike out,” Baker said. “There was no way I was striking out. I put the ball in play and it happened.”
Dover took the field in the top of the seventh and Lower Sussex loaded the bases with one out. That’s when Davis turned to Dabney.
Dabney struck out the first batter he faced on three pitchers. Then he quickly moved to a two-strike count on the next hitter but had to fight through three foul balls.
He dropped a curveball on the inside corner for the final strike and was mobbed by his teammates on the mound.
Dabney said he wasn’t thinking about the pressure when he came off the bench.
“Nothing,” he said when asked what was going through his mind. “Just wanted to strike everybody out and throw curveballs.”
“He’s proven it in districts, our game on Thursday and he did it tonight,” Davis said. “He’s doing something special for us. He hurt himself in the first tournament but he’s battled back and is pitching his tail off for us.”
The game was full of wild and clutch plays. The biggest might’ve been a catch by Andrew Carney in left field.
With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth, Carney leaped and caught the final out of the inning over the fence to take away a potential grand slam. If the ball missed Carney’s glove, Lower Sussex would have taken an 8-7 lead at that point.
“If I didn’t catch it that was a home run,” Carney said. “Everything that was going through my mind was not to let that ball touch the ground or go over the fence.”
Carney also threw two innings and escaped a jam in the sixth with two strikeouts and a leaping catch by Michael Carrington. Dominic Velazquez tossed five innings in the nightcap and came up with a gutsy effort to keep the game tied.
Carney homered in the first game and went 3-for-3 in the second with two runs scored and one RBI. Carrington knocked in two runs and scored three times.
“We have a lot of heart,” Carney said. “We stayed humble when we were down and most of all we all had confidence in each other.”
Staff writer Tim Mastro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 741-8224.
Follow @TimMastroDSN on Twitter.