Back in love again

Published 9:37 am Thursday, May 19, 2016

MERRY HILL – Bryant Goodwin wanted it to happen again, and so did his coach. What is it? A Championship feeling.

The Lawrence Academy senior was a freshman reserve on the last Warriors team that played for a state baseball title. Meanwhile, LAW coach Jason Wynne coached in the NCHSAA 1A Eastern championship game in 2001, but his Jamesville High Bullets lost to Goldsboro Rosewood.

None of that mattered Monday as the afternoon sun descended in the western sky here and Lawrence put the cap on their seventh title run in the last nine years with a 11-3 win over Kerr-Vance Academy that sent the Warriors back to Wilson’s Fleming Stadium and another shot at a championship.

“None are sweeter than this,” said a grinning Wynne. “These guys transitioned to a new coach, they bought into what we were doing, and now this. I’m mighty proud of my Warriors.”

“My freshman year on a team with a bunch of seniors, we went and won it all,” said Goodwin. “Now I want to take these young kids and do the same thing.”

“As a freshman you don’t understand it, but it’s just so much sweeter as a senior,” said fellow four-year player Tyler Baker.

For two straight years the Warriors had been eliminated in the semi-finals. Now they were in a game where the offense was anemic and the defense kicked the ball around during the first five innings. Lawrence then picked the last frame to show what Warrior baseball was about: flawless defense, sharp pitching, and a nine-run explosion that sealed the Spartans’ fate.

After a scoreless first inning Lawrence broke through in the bottom of the second inning when Jarrett Harrell poked a single up the middle. He then took second – and later third – bases on separate wild pitches before a bases-loaded walk to Trey Styons produced the first Warrior run and a 1-0 lead.

Kerr-Vance scored in the top of the third to tie things up before Lawrence went back in front. Daquan Wilson walked, went to second on Harrell’s second base hit of the game. Wilson advanced to third on the same play before Slade Cowan’s ground out later got him home. Lawrence was up, 2-1.

The Warriors had committed at least one error in two of the first five innings. Another error, with two out in the top of the fifth, proved costly. The Spartans got to starter Tyler Jones with three straight hits, the final two scoring the pair of runs that put Kerr-Vance in front. There was excitement erupting on the KVA bench as they took a 3-2 lead.

Lefty Jake Montgomery entered the game for the Spartans in the bottom of the fifth and thanks to his fastball, he retired Lawrence in order, getting the last two on a double-play.

But the sixth inning was different: Montgomery walked the first two LAW batters before Baker got a base hit to load the bases. A third walk issued to Styons produced the tying run. Goodwin followed with a double down the third base line that plated two more for the go-ahead.

But Lawrence wasn’t finished: Jones singled to drive in another run. Then it was the turn of KVA’s defense to throw the ball around and two more Warrior runs scored on Spartan errors. In all, Lawrence batted around their line-up and had scored nine runs before KVA could get an out. When they finally did, they were in an eight-run hole.

Harrell returned to the mound with the huge lead, and after giving up a leadoff base hit, got a strikeout and a double-play to end the game.

“Everybody was nervous,” said Styons afterward. “But once we got the jitters out is when we started popping the ball. It was just hard ground balls in the gap and there was nothing they could do about it.”

“We gave them every opportunity to take this game from us,” said Wynne. “But we battled back and just gave them an onslaught.”

The win sends Lawrence back to the title tilt where they will face the Oakwood School. Over in the opponent’s dugout will be a familiar face: Eagles assistant and former Ridgecroft School head coach Brandon Hodges.

Due to forecasts of inclement weather the championship best-of-three series has been changed: Game-one at Wilson’s Fleming Stadium will be Thursday at 7 p.m. Game-two will be Friday at 4 p.m., and, if necessary, Game-three will be Friday at 7 p.m.

“Game plan?” wondered Wynne, when asked. “Just keeping these bats hot.”