‘Heroic’ comeback

Published 9:28 am Tuesday, April 29, 2014

LASKER – In a tournament named for a Northampton County military hero, it was fitting that his alma mater won the tournament named in his honor in ‘heroic’ fashion.

Christian Fleetwood’s two-out, 3-2 count, walk off single proved to be the game-winner as Northeast Academy downed fellow Tarheel Independent Conference foe, Hobgood Academy, 6-5, here Thursday night in the title game of the Sgt. Will McLawhorn Scholarship Baseball Tournament.

It was the Eagles’ second McLawhorn title, having taken the crown in the tournament’s first year, 2012, when they topped Bethel Assembly Christian Academy, 11-1.

McLawhorn, a Northeast Academy grad and member of the 101st Airborne “Screamin’ Eagles”, died defending his country in Afghanistan in December of 2010.

Fleetwood’s base-knock, which bounced off a Raider infielder, was his only hit of the night, and kept the senior outfielder from going 0-4.

Jake Bryant had three of Northeast’s 11 hits on the night, going 3-for-4.  Conner Hurdle was 2-for-3 and Nathan Rowe was 2-for-4.  In addition to Fleetwood, Zach Byers, Branden Edwards, and Matt Little also had hits for the Eagles.

“It just feels great,” said Northeast coach Billy-Boy Bridgers, shivering in the April night chill after being doused by water from the Gatorade bucket by his players.” We had nothing but seniors coming up to bat, and one of them came through. I couldn’t have drawn it any better.”

Seth Roberson was 2-for-4 for the Raiders while teammate Wade Johnson was 2-for-3. Rontarious Graham, Chris Braddy, and Caleb Brown had the other hits for Hobgood with Brown driving in two runs.

Zach Byers went the distance for the Northeast win on the mound, giving up five runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and three walks.  Alex Parker who started the game and returned in relief to face just one batter – Fleetwood – took the loss for Hobgood.

“These were just two remarkable games, two close games on the closing night,” said Rev. Will McLawhorn, Sr., Will’s father. “The community has been great, and it’s good to give back.  Will was dedicated, and I’m sure he’s excited about what we’re doing here in his honor.”

Hobgood got on the board first with three runs in the first inning.  It was nearly four runs, but Brown was ruled the last out of the inning for tagging and leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly.  Graham, Roberson, and Johnson scored ahead of him to make it 3-0, Raiders, after just a half inning of play as Hobgood opened the game with four consecutive hits.

Northeast got one run back in the bottom of the second inning when Edwards ripped a one-out single up the middle, and then scored on Little’s triple to left field that cut the Raider lead to 3-1.

In the top of the fifth Hobgood tacked on two more runs when Roberson singled and went to second on the throw.  Johnson then doubled into the gap in left center field to plate Roberson, and made it to third when the leftfielder bobbled the baseball.  Johnson would score on Brown’s second RBI of the game, a sacrifice groundout.  That upped the Raider score to 5-1.

Northeast crept back within a run in the bottom of the fifth.  Trey Futrell drew a one-out walk and advanced all the way to third on Conner Hurdle’s base hit down the third base-line.  Rowe then doubled into the gap in left-center to score Futrell and Hurdle came home when the leftfielder committed his second error of the game, allowing Rowe to reach third.  After a Raider pitching change, one out later, Byers singled to score Rowe and the Eagles went into the sixth inning trailing Hobgood, 5-4.

Byers doused all Hobgood threats in the final two innings by getting three up-and-three down in the sixth and seventh, setting up the final inning dramatics.

Trailing by a run, Conner Hurdle opened the inning with a base-on-balls and advance to second on a wild pitch.  The next Northeast batter struck out for the first out of the frame before Cody Hurdle walked and the Hurdle brothers represented the tying and winning runs.

Graham, who had come on in relief of Parker then got a strikeout before another Northeast senior, Jake Bryant, came up to bat.  With two down, Bryant looped a soft safety just behind second base, which dropped between the Hobgood shortstop, second baseman, and right fielder that scored Conner with the tying run, 5-5, and moved Cody to third.  Edwards followed and was hit by Graham, loading the bases for the Eagles.

That brought Fleetwood up to bat and the Northeast crowd up off their feet. Graham worked his way to a three-one count on the Northeast senior outfielder who was 0-for-3 up to that point before Raiders coach Michael Johnson made a pitching change and brought back Parker.  Fleetwood fouled off the first pitch to run the count full before he lashed out at a Parker breaking ball that rumbled across the dirt infield.  The Hobgood infielder took it off his chest on an erratic bounce before picking up the ball, but his throw could not get Fleetwood at first base as Cody Hurdle raced home with the game winner causing an explosion of cheers at the ballpark and a huge dog pile atop Fleetwood along the third-base line.

“I felt a lot of pressure,” said Fleetwood, after extracting himself from under his teammates. “I hadn’t had a hit all night and on that last pitch I just figured ‘why not’, and just lashed the bat out at it.”

“This was just my second complete game all year,” said Byers. “It felt good to win the last game we seniors will ever play here on this ball field.  And it felt good to win it for Will McLawhorn.”

TOURNAMENT NOTES:  In a game almost as dramatic, Cornerstone Christian of Roanoke Rapids held off a seventh inning comeback by Bethel Assembly to win the third-place game.  It was Cornerstone’s first time in the event while Bethel was runner-up to Northeast in the first-ever championship game.

There were three McLawhorn scholarships awarded by Will’s family at the end of the night.  Winners were Taylor Schmaltz of Cornerstone Christian, Eric Josey of Hobgood, and Cody Hurdle of Northeast.