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Gay honored before Chowan game

MURFREESBORO – “Merrell” Gay would’ve loved it.

Maybe not all the attention he was paid Sunday before the final two baseball games of the season for Chowan University, but the fact that it was perfect baseball weather and there was a crowd on hand to cheer for the Hawks would have really pleased him.

He might’ve even invoked that old Ernie Banks axiom, “It’s such a nice day, let’s play three!”

Clinton “Merrell” Gay, a longtime Chowan baseball and university supporter and native of Northampton County, died earlier this year. He was honored with Clinton “Merrell” Gay Appreciation Day in a pre-game ceremony at Hawkins Field before the Hawks closed out their 2009 season with a double-header against defending NCAA Division-II national champions, Mt. Olive College.

Gay’s surviving family members were on hand to help kick off the ceremony with a “first pitch” at 12:30 p.m. Head Coach Aaron Carroll and Vice President for Development, John Tayloe, then unveiled a plaque on the press box wall at Hawkins that honored Gay’s contributions to the University and to the baseball program.

Tayloe also announced the creation of the Clinton “Merrell” Gay Chowan University Baseball Scholarship Endowment as a memorial by family and friends; and the first such scholarship to be established for baseball.

As another gesture of tribute, an empty chair at Gay’s favorite spot to view his beloved Hawks — just outside the fence directly behind home plate — was placed there in memoriam and upon which rested in a clear glass vase a bouquet of brightly gleaming cut white roses.

Meanwhile, there was baseball to be played and unfortunately the only damper on the afternoon was that the Hawks could not pull off the ultimate tribute with a win.

Mt. Olive claimed both games of the doubleheader: 25-1 in the first game and 14-3 in the nightcap.

Freshman Will Medlin, making just his second start of the season, lasted less than an inning as the Trojans banged out seven hits highlighted by Edenton sophomore and former Plymouth High star Joseph Westbrook’s grand slam home run over the center field fence. Westbrook would club two round-trippers in the contest and finished with a career high five runs batted in.

Ironically, the Hawks staved off the shutout as Mike Taylor slammed his 10th homerun of the year with a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth inning over the right field fence. His homer also broke up a no-hit bid by Mt. Olive’s Paul Novicki. Taylor also collected Chowan’s only other hit with two-out single to right center in the bottom of the seventh.

Juniors Spencer Fagan and Steve Humphrey relieved Medlin and surrendered nine runs apiece as the Trojan onslaught continued. Tyler King pitched the final three scoreless innings for Chowan giving up just a pair of hits and striking out two.

“We’ve got very limited pitching right now,” said fifth-year coach Aaron Carroll, “and there’s really nothing we can do about it. Mt. Olive just exploited it.”

“When you spot a team nine runs it kind of deflates you,” he added.

“We hit the ball hard,” said 23-year veteran Mt. Olive coach Carl Lancaster, “and the ones we didn’t hit hard just kind of fell in, but sometimes that’s just the way baseball works.”

“I’m proud of my kids,” said Carroll. “Throwing basically a freshman pitching staff, the inexperience, and the rainouts. We’ve done a lot up to this point.”