State champs

THE WILKES COUNTY AMERICAN Coach Pitch Baseball All-Stars defeated West Raleigh twice  to win the 2011 Tar Heel League Coach Pitch State Championship in Smithfield. Members of the team in the photo are, front row, left-to-right, Nick Hartley, Bryson Sidden, Kai Boddie, Trenton Rhodes, Evan Johnson and Grayson Murray. Middle row, Zach Mastin, Caeden Howell, Keaton Hincher, Noah Parks, Cole Chipman, Nathan Childers and Aiken Minton. Back row, Coaches Zack Murray, Chris Mastin, Curly Crow Church (scorekeeper), Chad Hayes and Brian Sidden. Not pictured, Eli Johnson (bat boy).

This is the tenth article in a weekly series highlighting big local sports’ anniversaries, given the current down time for local sports. Readers are encouraged to share any of their memories from local sports this time of year by emailing Photos would be appreciated too but are not a must.

For consideration to be included, please include what month (and day if known) and year the event took place.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a look back at some of the bigger anniversaries from Wilkes County sports in the summer months of 2011… nine years ago at this time:

Wilkes County Coach Pitch reflects back

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the inception of Tar Heel League State Tournament in 2000, the West Raleigh all-stars had won 10 state championships. Wilkes County American coach pitch broke through and won its first championship with players who recently graduated from Wilkes County High Schools and the others are going to be rising juniors and seniors this fall. A year later, the Wilkes County coach pitch softball all-stars won its second state title after winning it all in 2009. Since that 2012 title, the coach pitch softball program has won three more state championships. Coach Pitch baseball came close last summer as it finished runner-up. The following article is from the August 1, 2011 edition of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. It has been edited.

To say that Wilkes County American’s 2011 Tar Heel League Coach Pitch State Championship run July 21-24 in Smithfield was nothing short of spectacular is an understatement.

But nonetheless, the way that Wilkes American came back to claim its first coach pitch championship was spectacular.

After the Rolesville All-Stars sent Wilkes American into the losers’ bracket after an 11-10 extra-inning decision in the second round, Wilkes played five elimination games just to get to the finals, a feat that showed Head Coach Chad Hayes just how much the boys wanted the title.

“I wanted the kids to believe that they could do it. We talked about it during every practice and every game — just believing in ourselves and in each other,” said Hayes. “When they won the championship, it didn’t really sink into them what they accomplished until after they did. Sometimes, as a kid, you can never really tell what’s going through their minds so I just kept telling them to believe in each other that they could do this.”

After exacting a measure of payback by defeating Rolesville 7-2 in the losers’ bracket finals, just one thing stood between Wilkes and a state title — defending state champion West Raleigh.

Since the Tar Heel League State Tournament started in 2000, West Raleigh had won 10 of the 11 state titles, including one against its finals opponent when Wilkes hosted the tourney in 2009. The Wendell All-Stars own stake to the other state title up until that year when they won the crown in 2007.

“When you mention the name West Raleigh in coach pitch everyone knows them as the top dog,” Hayes said. “As a coach, it makes me happy to know that we won, and that we did it against one of the top teams in the state makes it very special.”

Six hours after the loss to Rolesville, Wilkes American returned to the diamond against nearby Lenoir and pounded out 18 hits in a 16-4 win. Along with Trenton Rhodes going 3-for-3 in the contest, Wilkes had four other guys (Aiken Minton, Noah Parks, Kai Boddie and Evan Johnson) come up with two hits apiece.

On July 23, Wilkes American found itself on the brink of elimination in the first game of the day against East Chatham.

With both teams tied at three apiece, East Chatham went up 5-3 going into the last of the seventh. Wilkes responded with three runs to come away with a one-run victory, 6-5, and advanced in the losers’ bracket where it faced a familiar foe in the next round.

That foe would be the Wilkes National All-Stars, and Wilkes American collected 22 hits in a 15-5 decision to keep its hope of a state championship alive. Besides Minton and Parks, Grayson Murray joined them with three hits in the contest. Murray also added four RBIs.

The East Chatham contest wouldn’t be the only close call for Wilkes American on Saturday as it trailed Rocky Mount in the bottom of the fourth inning, 6-1.

After plating four runs in the bottom of the inning, Wilkes American rallied to take the lead after five innings and held off Rocky Mount, 10-9, earning a spot in the finals of the losers’ bracket.

After playing three elimination games in the span of five hours that day, Hayes felt the boys had really started to come together as a unit.

“Following the games against East Chatham and Wilkes National, we got ourselves into a rhythm and everything really started clicking for us,” Hayes said. “After that, the coaches and the players just forgot about the heat, forgot about how many games we had to play in a row and it got to a point where it became a lot of fun.

“Even though we played nine games in four days, it was great for us to win it but bittersweet at the same time because we had to stop playing.”

Parks went 3-for-3 to pace Wilkes American while Murray also went 3-for-3. Zach Mastin, Keaton Hincher and Minton all were 2-for-3 in the winning effort.

Wilkes American faced the daunting task of having to beat the defending state champions twice to claim the title. After winning 9-3 in the first game, the lowest scoring championship game in the short history of the tournament took place.

Wilkes American held West Raleigh to just two hits and Cole Chipman came through with the only run of the game in the second inning, driving in Parks to claim the 2011 Tar Heel League Coach Pitch State Championship, 1-0.

According to Hayes, the lack of hits (the two teams combined for seven hits in the championship game) did not come from the boys not hitting the ball but rather some outstanding defense by the two teams.

“It was a major highlight for the kids to be able to face West Raleigh and beat them twice. But then to hold them to three runs in the first game and none in the second game, is amazing,” said Hayes. “A lot of people who couldn’t make it to the game may have thought that the teams were not hitting the ball but it wasn’t because of that; both teams played great defense. There were a number of plays made that you wouldn’t see made in high school.

“It was just so much fun to watch but to shut West Raleigh out was just the icing on the cake for me and for the kids.”

Before going to Smithfield, the boys all decided to do something to show their team unity so they all got mohawk haircuts.

“We were getting some weird looks from some of the other teams and their coaches, but it’s just a testament to our guys because they didn’t care what anyone else thought,” Hayes said. “It was more of a team-bonding thing than anything else and we always talk about being a band of brothers, sticking together no matter what.”

A non-baseball aspect that stood out in Hayes’ mind for the tournament was the support.

Of all the supporters who helped along the way, one stood out above the rest for Hayes — Curly Crow Church, who did everything from keeping score for both Wilkes County teams to just offering moral support for both squads.

“I’ve known Crow since I was 5 playing basketball at the Y so I’ve always looked up to him and having him there with us was great,” Hayes said. “I heard a lot of parents tell me that they felt him being there is what helped us get over the edge. He did everything for us, keeping the scorebooks, he had scores of every game that was played that weekend, you name it, he did it.

“The kids really gravitated to him because everything he did that weekend was for them, not just for our team but for the Wilkes National team as well.”

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