08/03/04 — Wayne County's marathon run turned into sprint at the right time

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Wayne County's marathon run turned into sprint at the right time

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 3, 2004 1:55 PM

MOUNT OLIVE — It is often said that a season is like a marathon, not a sprint.

Wayne County’s American Legion baseball team treated it more like a relay — with an emerging cast of heroes at various stretches.

A timely hit. A big inning with a multi-run rally. A stout pitching and defensive performance.

If you’ve watched Wayne County Post 11 play this season, you’ve probably seen any of these factors — and more — determine the outcome of its 27 wins.

During most of the postseason, it seemed to be a combination of these.

Post 11 added to its formula for winning with three straight strong-relief pitching wins against Wilson County in the Area I East finals — earning a berth in the N.C. American Legion Baseball State tournament that begins Wednesday in Shelby. Wayne County (27-7) opens up the tournament at 5 p.m. against Caldwell County at Hoyt S. Keeter Stadium.

Though there have been some impressive individual performances and numbers posted through the course of the season, no one player has carried Post 11.

“This as about an even an 18 players as you could get,” Wayne County coach Brad Reaves said. “There is a big age difference, but it seems like they’ve all had their night where they have done something to help us win.”

The balance produced an Area I East South Division regular-season title after a 9-1 finish in arguably the most difficult Legion division in the state. In the postseason, Post 11 knocked off division foes New Bern and Pitt County and captured the Area I East championship with a 3-0 sweep of Wilson. With three big series wins under its belt, Wayne County was denied the Area I title after a 2-0 sweep by Garner last week.

Now, Post 11 will be tossed in with seven other teams from across the state; Garner (Area I), Pleasure Island and Laurinburg (Area II); Greensboro and Kannapolis (Area III); and Caldwell County and host Shelby (Area IV).

Reaves knows it will take more of the same production up and down the lineup and across the board from the pitching staff to emerge with the 2004 state title.

“I think a new person has to step up every night, but now everybody has to step it up,” Reaves said. “At times we’ve played some pretty good baseball and at times we’ve stunk it up. There are going to be some very good teams out there.”

The fact that Post 11 will be less familiar with its opponents in Shelby than regular season and Area I playoff foes is not a pressing concern to Reaves.

“I’m kind of glad we don’t know anything about them. This team kind of plays to who they are playing,” Reaves said. “I hope we go up there with the attitude that everyone up there is pretty good, and they are going to be.”

Not only is this Wayne County team balanced statistically, it has an even cross-section of players of varying age groups and American Legion experience levels.

Erik Lovett, Todd MacCoy, Garrett Sutton, Josh Pate, Brett Butts, Phillip Cunningham, Philip Pennington and Mike Oglesby are all making their final run in Post 11’s blue and gold.

“I hadn’t even really thought about it being my last game until the Pitt game where they beat us by 10 runs,” said Lovett, who has a team-high nine home runs and 44 RBI. “Then it hit me. Luckily we picked it up and kept it going, and hopefully we can come out on top this year and win a ring.

“These guys are great. I’m glad we got a chance to all play together one last time and hopefully we can make a run at it.”

Lenoir Community College signee Jes Snyder (IF), along with rising seniors Jesse Lancaster (IF), Airlon Vinson (1B), Matthew Holloman (IF) and Adam Williams (P) all have at least one year of eligibility left. Rising juniors David Combs (C), Austin Hood (IF) and Ashton Langston (P); and incoming sophomores Garrett Davis (P/OF) and Grant Sasser (P) are all first-year senior Legion performers.

“It’s an honor really ... playing with all these big guys and college guys and playing well,” said Davis, who has 27 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings of work. “I’ve learned a lot about pitching ... hitting your spots, and the second and third pitches are the most important.”

Hitters one through five — Lancaster, Snyder, Lovett, MacCoy and Vinson — have been consistently productive through the year. Each is batting over .300 and the quintet has combined for nearly two-thirds of the RBI production. Still, there have been plenty of situations when someone lower in the order has stepped up and provided a big hit.

“It’s just clutch. When I’m not swinging it well, or Erik, you know someone at the bottom of the lineup will pick it up,” MacCoy said. “We really didn’t start coming together until the middle of the season, but it seems like everybody just started clicking.

“That’s all we need right now is for people to step up.”

On the mound, six different pitchers have at least three wins — Williams (5-1), Butts (4-0), Sasser (3-1), Pennington (3-1), Davis (4-0) and Cunningham (3-2).

The veteran players will obviously be missed next year, but clearly the well won’t be dry next season with three of those talented arms likely returning. On top of that, both Wayne County and the first-year Aycock Junior Legion programs both had solid seasons.

“It’s always been a winning tradition here. I’ve been very lucky to step in with good talent,” said Reaves who is a combined 45-12 in his two years. “It hasn’t got anything to do with me.

“I am blessed to have very good athletes and baseball players.”