This is the eighth 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 — namely May, June and July — by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
This week, we take a look back at some of the bigger anniversaries from Wilkes County sports in the summer months of 2016 … Four years ago at this time:
Wilkes American Blue wins district championship
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wilkes County American Blue Coach Pitch All-Stars won three elimination games in one night, including an extra-inning affair, to win the Tar Heel League District 2 championship and secure a spot in the state tournament, which was held that year at Memorial Park. The following article is from the July 13, 2016, edition of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. It has been edited.
In order to win the Tar Heel League Coach Pitch District 2 championship on Monday night, the Wilkes American Blue All-Stars needed to win three games.
Eighteen innings later, Wilkes American celebrated a district championship after an 11-7 win in extra innings against Wilkes National Navy at Memorial Park.
Wilkes American, which finished the tournament 4-1, needed to defeat Wilkes National twice after a 15-12 loss on Saturday.
According to Wilkes American Head Coach Chad Hayes, the formula for success was relatively simple.
“We’ve got a super group of kids and parents here. We’ve talked a lot about the fundamentals and the little things and how important they are; I felt like tonight it really clicked and they came together,” said Hayes.
Wilkes American also took advantage of getting out to quick starts in both games against Wilkes National as it scored four times in the first inning in both of the championship games.
Camden Wentz, who drove in six runs over the two championship games, and Praden Hatley gave Wilkes American a 4-0 advantage in the second championship game with RBI singles. Hatley also drove in six runs in the two games.
“It was huge. I told the boys, especially in the first game against them tonight, we had played a game already and they hadn’t. I told them, ‘Let’s set the tone early and then see what happens,’” said Hayes. “After we won the first game, I told them, ‘Let’s do the same thing,’ and we did. I felt like we kept the whole momentum throughout the second game.”
Wilkes National responded with one run in the bottom of the first inning and added three more runs. Kayden Oliver highlighted the inning with an RBI single.
Zeb Shepherd scored on an error to cut Wilkes American’s lead to 6-5 in the bottom of the fourth.
Wilkes National (2-2) looked to be on its way to tying the game in the fifth inning following a leadoff single from Ryan Laws.
After Laws was forced out on Braxton Gebauer’s fielder’s choice, Wilkes American second baseman Braylen Walker snagged a line drive off of Aiden Wingler’s bat. Walker then threw over to Hatley at first base for the inning-ending double play.
“I felt the infield made exceptional plays. I actually made some last minute changes today from Saturday — we changed the shortstop and first baseman,” said Hayes. “Praden was playing shortstop and he’s played first base predominantly and he’s just a little more comfortable over there. Eli Johnson is just one of those kids who could play anywhere and we decided to make that switch.”
Hatley pushed Wilkes American’s advantage to 7-5 in the top of the sixth with an RBI groundout but Shepherd responded with a two-run double in the bottom half of the inning to force extras.
Jacob Brown broke the tie with an RBI single and Walker, who went 3-for-4 to pace Wilkes American, pushed the lead to 10-7 with a two-run double. Casey Adams also added an RBI single.
Hayes knew it was going to be a challenge to win three games on the same night, especially since Wilkes National only needed to win once to claim the district championship.
In addition to Johnson and Wentz, Brown, Slater Meade and David “Jr.” Hensiek had two hits apiece.
“We came out and had a very close game with those guys on Saturday. Those guys played extremely well and we played well but in the end, we came up a little short,” said Hayes. “We had a long talk and I told the guys that we were playing three games today and we came back and we did it; hats off to the National League A team, they’re an extremely good baseball team.”
Both teams will now turn their attention to the Tar Heel League State Tournament that takes place at Memorial Park starting on July 28.
Notes: Shepherd went 3-for-3 at the plate to lead Wilkes National while Oliver, Laws and Evan Adams went 2-for-3. Wilkes American Blue used three big innings to defeat Wilkes National Navy 10-4 on Monday evening to force a winner-take-all contest of the Tar Heel League District 2 championship. In the loser’s bracket final earlier that evening, Wilkes American Blue trailed 11-10 in the top of the sixth but rallied for five runs, and held off a last at-bat charge from Wilkes National Green, to claim a 15-14 win.