05/01/05 — "1-2-3 the 'Ship!" -- Eagles emerge CCC champs

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"1-2-3 the 'Ship!" -- Eagles emerge CCC champs

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 1, 2005 2:09 AM


"1-2-3 the 'Ship!"

Wayne Christian's baseball team yelled that mantra before and after every contest this season, and never lost sight of its goal -- the Class 1-A Carolina Christian Conference tournament title.

The Eagles' dream turned into reality Friday evening on their home diamond. J.D. Hightower slapped a two-run home run and Wayne Christian kept on hitting in a 10-6 conquest of regular-season champion Village Christian of Fayetteville.

The disappointing memory of last year's defeat in the tournament final had changed into the sweet nectar of victory. The Eagles (12-2) also seized the league's automatic bid to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs, scheduled to begin either May 6 or 7.

Jubilant players shucked their cleats and gathered on Clifford Gymnasium floor for a celebratory photo.

"These boys were so close last year and I had everyone of them back," said Wayne Christian coach Tim Brannan. "We set that (CCC title) as our goal this season. We just really wanted it and to achieve that is just awesome. I don't think I've ever seen a happier team than what I saw after that game."

Wayne Christian banged out 15 hits, including seven doubles, in the regulaton seven-inning game. Hightower, who earned Most Valuable Player accolades, emerged the Eagles' top performer with three extra-base hits in five at-bats. He added two RBI.

Billy Smith contributed two hits and an RBI. Andrew Bass provided three doubles and two RBI in four plate appearances. T.A. Brannan doubled twice in a 3-for-5, three-RBI effort.

Adam Brannan added two hits, while Kyle Pender drove in a run.

Wayne Christian built a 10-2 lead, including a four-run outburst in the seventh. Brannan led off with a single, moved into scoring position on an infield error and scored on Smith's base hit.

Another infield error and Bass two-RBI single finished the last-inning uprising, which proved crucial.

"That was big," said coach Brannan.

Village Christian put together an 11-hit attack and scared the Eagles with a four-run surge of its own in the seventh. Starting left-handed pitcher Tyler Thomas, who missed two weeks due to a back injury, loaded the bases with no outs.

Kyle Pender struck out the first batter he faced. The next batter hit in front of the plate and Pender notched the forceout at home. He then induced a game-ending groundout to give the Eagles their first-ever CCC tournament crown.

"I was sweating," coach Brannan said. "Baseball is funny. It's never over. You have to play it the whole way and taking nothing for granted. I can't tell you how relieved I was."

Thomas, who recorded two strikeouts in six-plus innings, grabbed a spot on the all-CCC tournament team. Hightower, Bass, Smith and Adam Brannan also garnered all-tournament honors.

Now the Eagles await their playoff fate.

The 12-team field is scheduled for release Wednesday by the NCISAA 1-A seeding committee. The top four teams receive first-round byes. Seeds five through eight draw first-round home games.