Dogpile Number 6!

Published 9:26 am Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WILSON – Seis! Seis!

That’s what the Lawrence Academy baseball players shouted to their Spanish teacher, Luis Giron, who was doubling as yearbook photographer Saturday in Wilson at historic Fleming Stadium.

His students had just won their sixth consecutive NC Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A state championship with a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Cape Fear Christian Academy of Erwin.

The players, still gritty from their dog pile roll atop the pitcher’s mound also chanted, “six, six” as NCISAA associate director Chappell Carter presented Lawrence coach Robert Kravitz and the team with the title trophy.

“Here we go again,” joked Carter as he shook Kravitz’ hand.

In Kravitz’ nine years as head coach the Warriors have made the title game all nine times; and now six of those times they’ve hoisted the championship hardware.

“I like that saying,” said a grinning Kravitz as his players raised the large polished wooden engraving amidst the clicks of digital cameras from family and friends. “It never gets old, I’ll tell you that.”

“It’s a special time, especially with these (ten) seniors we’ve had,” he added. “Some we’ve had for three years, others for all four. They’re all a big part of this team and we’ll miss them.”

While the clinching game made for some tight and tense moments for Warrior fans, it was – by far – one of the most memorable championship games in memory. Instead of a blowout, this time the Warriors were in a real battle down to the final out.

This year’s championship featured a new format. Instead of two games on the first night of competition (Friday) with a third game, if necessary, on Saturday; Friday’s are now a single game with two possible games the next day. That helps a team’s pitching rotation with an extra day of rest.

The team was also returning to the “friendly confines” of Fleming Stadium. The cavernous old cauldron has practically doubled as Lawrence’s “second” home ball park because of the frequency of games the Warriors play there.

Friday night Lawrence opened their title run with an 11-1 victory shortened to five innings. Southpaw starter and senior hurler Dallas Belch gave up a run in the top of the first inning before his teammates’ offense completely shut the Eagles down the rest of the night with eleven unanswered runs.

“Getting that first win kind of gave us a head start on the whole deal,” said Belch on Saturday. “We got that first one over with and we could sort of relax.”

Saturday, with everyone in the rotation available, Kravitz opted to start number-three, right-hander Jesse White, keeping ace Darren Armstrong available for either relief help or the off-chance of starting a third game.

White delivered with a three-run, three-hit gem that also featured three walks and nine strikeouts; his only trouble coming with the three unearned runs given up in the fifth inning.

“He was a bulldog for us out there,” said Kravitz.

“I sort of struggled there for a little bit, but I just buckled down and got my head back in the game,” said White. “I kept throwing strikes because I knew my team was behind me.”

White gave up just two balls hit out of the infield, and his team’s defense was just as stellar with the Warriors completing a pair of double-plays to end innings.

“My fast-ball was what worked best for me,” he added. “For some reason they just couldn’t hit it today.”

In the bottom of the first inning, with CFCA as the home team, White surrendered a double to his counterpart, Eagles pitcher Clint Gregory. Gregory was later erased as a scoring threat thanks to a line-drive caught by shortstop, Ryan Lilley, who stepped on second base to complete Lawrence’s first double-play of the game.

The Warriors came back and registered their second twin-killing of the afternoon in the second inning after a one-out walk. A grounder was hit to third baseman J.B. Williams who relayed the ball to second baseman Drew Williams who then threw on to first base in time.

Meanwhile, the Warriors’ bats were as quiet as their gloves were active. Gregory, a thin, wiry right-hander for Cape Fear, had sat down Lawrence in order for three straight innings as the game remained scoreless.

In the top of the fourth it looked like Lawrence would finally break thru and score. Perry Wynns led off with a solid base hit to right field and Cody Ambrose followed with a rip back up the middle to get two aboard. The next batter, Patrick Castelloe, then cracked a shot deep into the hole between first and second for a sacrifice groundout that moved the runners into scoring position. Armstrong stepped up next and hit a line shot that was gloved by Eagle second baseman, Aaron Hedgepeth. After J.B. Williams walked to load the bases, Gregory got a strikeout as Lawrence left all three stranded.

The goose-eggs came off the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth. Leading off for CFCA with the top of the order, Andrew Parrish hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to short, but Lawrence threw the ball away for a two-base error. The next batter, Gregory, walked, and the third batter, Austin Gentry, hit a drag bunt that loaded the bases.

Aaron Hedgepeth then lifted a fly ball into center field to score the first run but the ball was misplayed for a two-base error and all three runs crossed the plate for a 3-0 lead as Lawrence’s fans sat in stunned stony silence.

It was the first time the Warriors had trailed by three runs since the Tarboro Easter Classic championship game.

But there’s an old sports cliché: ‘Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games’.

White led off the fifth inning reaching on an error, but was erased when Lilley hit into a fielder’s choice. That same play featured Cape Fear’s second error of the inning, allowing Lilley to reach second base. Drew Williams then hit a bomb into the gap in right center field. Lilley raced hard from second base, beating the throw to make the score 3-1 as Williams ended up on second. Wynns was then hit by a pitch to put two aboard for Ambrose. Ambrose snuck thru a liner to right that brought home Williams to make it a 3-2 game and put Wynns on third. After Ambrose stole second Castelloe walked and was lifted for courtesy runner, Bryant Goodwin.

Cape Fear’s Gregory then unleashed a pitch that bounced off home plate all the way to the backstop. Wynns scored on the wild pitch to tie the game at 3-3 as Ambrose and Castelloe moved up. Armstrong, who had been denied with the bases loaded an inning earlier, then hit a towering fly ball to right field allowing Ambrose to score the go-ahead run for a 4-3 score.

When White returned to the mound he was much more relaxed – and effective – pitching with the lead.  He allowed just a two-out walk in the bottom of the fifth before sitting down the side in order the final two half innings. The final out ground-out producing another wild celebration of Warriors on the pitching mound.

“It hurts good right now,” said a grinning Wynns after the game. Wynns was hit by a pitch in the fifth after taking a ball off his nose in Tuesday’s semi-final against Freedom back in Merry Hill. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

“I’ve been catching Jesse since Little League,” said Castelloe. “I know what to do in certain situations and today his fastball was really working.”

“It’s emotional,” said Ambrose, who along with Elliott, Brandon Smith, and Lilley formed a fraternal group hug. “Just feels good to finally be here and to have done it, again.”

The one-run margin was Lawrence’s closest contest since a similar 4-3 game, a one-run loss to Wayne Country Day in 2007. The last year the Warriors did not win the state championship.

“They could have just bulldozed us over,” said CapeFear coach Bill Parrish. “Instead, (my) boys fought for what we wanted, and I’m glad to see it ended on that note.”

When asked what life was going to be like for them without Lawrence baseball each senior seemed to put the year in a similar perspective.

“I guess we’ll have to come back and watch.”

CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES:  Dallas Belch, Ryan Lilley, and Darren Armstrong were voted onto the NCISAA 1A All-State baseball team by the association’s coaches. Also making the team was Ryan Williams of NortheastAcademy.