Warriors bag title

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008

MERRY HILL – Robert Kravitz watched the ball leave the bat and sail high into the air.

He watched as Evan Holton settled under it and they saw him make the catch.

At that moment, the fourth-year Lawrence Academy baseball boss finally knew what it felt like to be a state champion.

“I was just excited for the boys,” Kravitz said. “Watching them dog pile made the four year wait worth it.”

Kravitz and the Warriors have indeed waited four seasons to celebrate as they have earned their way into the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association 1-A championship game every year since 2005. Each year they have fallen short as they attempted to end the season with a state title.

That is no longer true after the Warriors defeated Waccamaw Academy, ironically a team they lost to twice during the three years as a bridesmaid.

Lawrence won the first game of the best-of-three series 10-0 on Friday night and then secured an 11-3 win on Saturday to take the school’s first baseball title since 2002. Both games were held at Fleming Stadium in Wilson.

Kravitz said his team went into the 2008 Final Four with some momentum thanks to a tough game against rival Ridgecroft School in the Elite Eight.

“We felt good as a team heading into the weekend,” the coach said. “We had a big win against Ridgecroft that we felt like gave us some momentum. The fact that they battled us so hard actually helped us heading into the Final Four.”

He said another key was the Warriors had their pitching lined up heading into the Final Four, going with Blake Hill on Friday in the semifinals before using dual aces Daniel Oliver and Jonathan Brantley in the two championship games.

“Blake pitched fantastic in the semifinals,” Kravitz said. “We took a chance and it paid off for us. I was pleased with what I got from Blake.”

Hill helped the Warriors power past Faith Christian Academy 10-5 and earn their fourth consecutive trip to the championship series.

Once there, they met a familiar foe in Waccamaw, but this time the outcome was different. Lawrence won the opening game of the series for the first time in those four years, thumping Waccamaw 10-0 behind a strong performance from Oliver.

“Daniel gave us a gutsy performance,” Kravitz said. “After pitching three innings in the Final Four game, he turned around and went five innings for the win in the first game of the series.”

The coach said winning on Friday night alleviated some of the pressure on his team, especially since they had never won that game before.

“I was a little concerned heading in because I was afraid of what kind of pressure the kids would put on themselves,” he said. “Even if we had lost, I felt good because of having Jonathan and Chad Whitehead ready to pitch on Saturday.

“Still, I was glad to see us get that game behind us,” he added.

Brantley then tossed an 11-3 victory in the second game of the series Saturday morning and propelled the Warriors to the state title.

“Jonathan was a bulldog,” Kravitz said. “He had thrown 17 pitches on Friday, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is when you’re giving it your all.

“He gave up two quick runs, but settled down,” the coach continued. “It was one of the best gut-it-out performances I’ve ever had from a pitcher.”

Kravitz said he was happy for his team, but particularly for four seniors who had been through the close calls. Those seniors were Chase Elliott, Joe Harrell, J.T. Lilley and Max Walker.

“They had been through two of the three (state title) losses,” Kravitz said. “It was so good to have them go out on top.”

While it was his first state championship as well, Kravitz had played on conference championship teams at Bertie High School in both football and baseball. He said the 1999 Eastern semifinal game in which Bertie’s baseball squad battled R.L. Fike High School helped in winning the state title.

“I think being in a game like that, which is one of the greatest games I’ve ever been in, prepares you for coaching in a state final,” he said.

The coach said he didn’t feel like much had changed during the four attempts to win the title.

“Honestly, I don’t know what the difference was this year,” he said. “We have always had talent. We’ve always had experience. I guess for once, we got all the breaks.”

The coach added that it was the completion of a goal he set when he arrived in Merry Hill.

“It was a goal we set from day one,” he said. “There was a foundation. We knew we had talent, but we had to build on it.”

Kravitz was quick to share the credit for realizing that dream with his current and past assistant coaches.

“Tom Hoggard was a big help in building this program,” Kravitz said. “He was very knowledgeable of the game and had good interaction with the players.

“Truitt Johnston has been like the father of the team,” he continued. “He looks after everyone, including me.

“Al Woods has been a big help this year,” he added. “Jacob Harrell was all heart when he played for me here and he has carried that into coaching.”

He said he was appreciative of the reputation the staff had built and the way they prepared.

“Something we get a lot of compliments on is the fact we stay calm most of the time,” he said. “I think that comes with preparation: knowing what to do before the situation arrives.

“I’ve always told my assistant coaches to expect the best, but be prepared for the worst,” he added.

In giving credit, Kravitz also thanked the fans of the Warriors.

“We had great support from the fans,” he said. “They love watching these boys play and I think that’s because of the way they carry themselves. They are good ball players and they carry themselves like men.”

Following the tournament, Oliver, Whitehead and Holton were named All-State.

“I’m proud of the three young men who were honored by the state,” Kravitz said. “I think Daniel, Chad and Evan were deserving. I also think Blake Hill was deserving. I think he got overlooked, but he could have easily been on that list.”

In four years under Kravitz, the Warriors have won four Tarheel Independent Conference championships, three TIC tournament championships, made four playoff appearances and reached the finals four times.