Four in a row

Published 11:29 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WILSON – Seven — and nothing lucky about it.

For the seven years Robert Kravitz has been Head Baseball Coach of the Lawrence Academy Warriors he’s directed them to the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association championship series.

Entering this past weekend his record was three runner-ups and a trio of titles, including the last three in a row.

Saturday at Wilson’s Fleming Stadium he picked up his fourth straight with an 11-2 triumph over Faith Christian School going 3-0 over the two days of the event.

Friday afternoon, down to their last two outs, a Robert Thompson blooper single scored the game winner in a 3-2 Warrior win over Trinity of Durham.

Then later that day in the first game of the best-of-three championship series, despite committing six errors, Lawrence banged out a dozen runs on a dozen hits and Jesse White hurled a three-hitter in a 12-4 win over Faith.

In Saturday’s clincher, Tyler Brickhouse went 3-for-4 while Jim Porter drove in a pair of runs and Thompson scored three times as Darren Armstrong overcame a shaky start on the mound as the Warriors won their 26th game of the season.

“If you’d have told me at the beginning of the year that we’d still be state champions, I kinda would’ve questioned it,” said a smiling Kravitz after the game as he and his team basked in the glow of victory.

“We were young,” he added. “We lost a lot and we knew we had a lot of work to do to get to where we are now and these guys here deserve all the credit.

“They work hard,” he concluded, “it paid off for them, and I’m proud of them.”

Only moments earlier on the bench, a totally exhausted team captain Scott Edge, the most veteran senior on the squad and overcome with the emotion of the moment at first rested his head in his hands and then he jumped up to give his coach a tremendous bear hug.

“I’m just full of so much and so many emotions,” the slugger said. “To be a part of three straight state championships and to do it with these guys, most of whom I’ve known since little league.

“For a minute in the beginning of the year we had to think about who we had and working on getting better,” he added, “and everything just came together to make a really great season.”

It couldn’t have come together better in the title game. Lawrence scored three runs in the first four innings before they ever recorded a hit.

Faith starting pitcher Chase Roupp opened the game with nine straight balls. Then, after walking the bases full, he hit the fourth batter he faced – Porter – to drive in Thompson with Lawrence’s first run.

Armstrong followed with a sacrifice bunt that scored Ryan Lilley.

Roupp was then pulled for All-State selection, right-hander Jarrick Oxendine, who struck out two of the final three batters, but Lawrence still lead, 2-0.

Thompson got things going in the top of the second inning with a one-out walk and then stole second and third before Lilley’s sacrifice fly scored him with the third Warrior run of the game.

In the bottom of the second, the Patriots – who had touched Armstrong for two hits in the first inning – continued with a lead-off single and a walk with no one out.

A sacrifice bunt and a Lawrence error plated the first Faith run of the game, but the Warriors’ defense bailed Armstrong out and Lawrence escaped still leading by two, 3-1.

Both sides went in order in the third inning before Lawrence got three more runs in the fourth frame.

Brickhouse opened with a one-out single and stole second followed by Jesse White with a walk.

With runners on the corners, Thompson delivered with the first Warrior RBI single of the game on a base hit down the third base line.

More pitching woes for Faith as, thanks to a walk, they loaded the bases before Oxendine hit Edge, producing another run. Thompson scored Lawrence’s final run of the frame on a fielder’s choice by Porter and it was 6-1.

Top of the fifth and the Warriors got another pair of runs – both unearned – thanks to a walk and the third hit batsman of the game.  Brickhouse bunted both runners into scoring position before Faith made a pitching change and in came another All-State selection Jonathan Naylor in relief.

But Naylor proceeded to give a free pass, then balked in Cameron Blowe, followed by a wild pitch that brought home Brickhouse and made it 8-1, Lawrence.

In the bottom of the fifth, Faith Head Coach Joe Morrow, who had constantly interrupted play in an effort to settle down his pitchers, saw the umpire’s patience wear out and Morrow was tossed for arguing a runner’s interference call.

The move at least fired up his team because the Patriots scored their second run of the game and it was 8-2 after five.

Lawrence sealed the deal in the sixth: Perry Wynns drove in Porter, who had singled and stole second, for a seven-run Warrior lead, 9-2. Blowe then reached on an error, and the alert Wynns scored the innings second run, with Blowe later scoring on a dropped ball in the outfield.

Faith had committed four errors, walked 10 batters, and hit three more.

After stranding a runner at third in the bottom of the sixth, Faith held Lawrence off the board in the top of the seventh before Oxendine got the Warriors last base hit in the bottom of the frame – a one-out single.

Despite this, Kravitz let sophomore Armstrong finish with a complete game win as he got a flyout and a strike out – the last of which producing Lawrence’s fourth dogpile celebration on the pitcher’s mound in the last four years.

“I got down on myself this year,” said Armstrong, “and almost did in this game; but coach told me to work through it, and I did.”

“We knew their (Faith’s) arms were tired,” added Porter with a grin, “but I’ve got a pretty good pitching staff over here and they did a good job all weekend.”

“There’s no better feeling in the world,” said Mason Hughes, who along with Edge, Taylor Thompson, Jesse Ambrose, and Scott Dunlow, are the only seniors on the team. “It’s only my second title, but I’ll miss these boys, the coaches, just everybody.”

“They were bulldogs this weekend,” said Kravitz, “and I’m proud of them.  We have a saying of ‘enjoy the moment’, but from the minute we break up the dog-pile that’s when the work starts all over again.

“And it will,” he added with a smile, “but right now, I think I’m ready to break out my golf clubs.”

CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: Lawrence’s Thompson, Edge, and Jesse White were named to the NCISAA All-State team along with Davis Harrell of Northeast Academy.  Lawrence’s win along with Hobgood’s triumph in softball gave the Tarheel Independent Conference two state champions in spring sports.