Warriors are champions – again

Published 12:02 pm Sunday, May 31, 2009

MERRY HILL – It ended much like many of them suspected.

Still, it wasn’t as easy as they made it look.

The Lawrence Academy varsity baseball team won 25 games and swept the championship series against Kerr-Vance Academy to claim their second consecutive North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state title.

“We had high expectations for sure,” said Lawrence Academy Head Coach Robert Kravitz. “We expected to be in the state championship game and we set a goal not to lose. We played some good teams and that didn’t happen, but we were able to win it all.”

Kravitz’s players agreed.

“I was expecting to repeat as state champions,” said senior Daniel Oliver, a thought that was echoed by classmate Jonathan Brantley.

“I was expecting to be successful based on our mix of new and older players,” Chad Whitehead added.

While the Warriors were able to accomplish their goals, Kravitz said it wasn’t as easy as the 25-3 record may have made it look, especially after Lawrence downed Kerr-Vance 16-2 in the final game of the state championship series.

“It’s true that we went in as the number one seed, but we got a tough draw in the second round,” Kravitz said of hosting Greenfield School. “Coach (Daniel) Johnson is a great coach and he is always going to make sure his team is competitive and they gave us a fit for a while.”

After the Warriors dispatched Greenfield 13-4, they advanced to the semifinals against a tough Faith Christian School team.

“Faith Christian was a lot better than some people thought,” Kravitz said. “They gave us a heck of a game. Our tough non-conference schedule paid off in that game because we were down to the very end, but fought back.”

The Warriors survived Faith 3-2 to earn a spot in the championship series against Kerr-Vance. There they went on to beat Kerr-Vance 7-3 in the Friday night opener and then banged out 20 hits in the finale.

“Friday night was tough because they had us 3-1 at one point,” Kravitz said. “That is one of the best teams we played anywhere all year talent-wise, coaching-wise – they were the total package.”

As for Saturday’s triumph, Kravitz said he and assistant coaches Jacob Harrell and Truitt Johnston had discussed what might happen if the team ever hit all the way through the order.

“We wondered what would happen if the day came when we hit one through nine,” the coach said. “We waited until the last day of the year, but we finally found out.”

The players said they knew the pressure to repeat would be on, but they were willing to work to make it happen.

“I felt like there was a lot more pressure this year to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and to validate us as the best team in the state without a doubt,” Oliver said.

“It was a lot of pressure because we were expected to win and anything else would have been a failure,” Whitehead added.

Brantley agreed.

“It seems like it is harder to go back-to-back and we felt like we were pressured to come out on top,” he said.

Each of them had a personal highlight during the season. Oliver’s came in the Final Four against Faith Christian. During that contest, he pitched a complete game and went 2-for-3 at the plate with a pair of RBIs.

Whitehead, who was the Tarheel Independent Conference Player of the Year, said his best game came against Edenton when he had two homeruns and felt his team played better than at any point before that.

Brantley’s best games were the Edenton victory (a one-hitter) and the final game of the championship series when he was the winning pitcher.

All three said the championship was important to them.

“This year was great because I got to go out on top as a senior and win back-to-back championships,” Brantley said.

Oliver agreed.

“I feel this year was a good way to finish out my career at Lawrence – to go out on top,” he said. “This year felt better to me because it was my last year and that is how we will be remembered – as back-to-back state champions.”

Whitehead, a junior, said he wanted to win the championship because of his friends that were seniors.

“Some of my best friends were seniors and I wanted them to go out on top,” he said. “The second one was sweet, but the first was sweeter.”

The young men also said they were appreciative of what Kravitz had meant to them.

“Coach Kravitz has meant a lot to me,” Oliver said. “He has been a great influence. We became great friends over my years at Lawrence. He taught me a lot about baseball, but also about life in general

“Our accomplishments as a team definitely would not have been possible without Coach Kravitz,” he added. “He’s a great coach.”

Brantley believes the same.

“Coach Kravitz and I have had a good relationship over the past four years,” he said. “I don’t think we have had a negative spot throughout my career.”

Whitehead added, “Coach Kravitz has meant the world to me. He started coaching me in the seventh grade and has been all I could ask for in a baseball coach. He has helped me more than just in baseball, but in life. I will take his advice farther than just Lawrence.”

The two seniors know they will be moving on from Lawrence, but hope their teams have left a legacy.

“I will remember my time at Lawrence as being a winner, having a great experience with a baseball team and always have fun while being very successful,” Oliver said.

Brantley added, “As a baseball player at Lawrence, I will remember that we were always the team to beat. Whoever we played, we were the team that everyone wanted to beat.”

For his part, Kravitz said the two state championships would always be special to him.

“They say the first one is the best, but I think this one means a lot more to me because it was harder,” he said. “Getting on top is tough, but staying there is even tougher.”