05/06/05 — No worries for playoff-bound Wayne Christian

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No worries for playoff-bound Wayne Christian

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 6, 2005 2:03 PM

Back-to-back losses in Class 1-A Carolina Christian Conference play left Wayne Christian varsity baseball coach Tim Brannan a little un-nerved.


A little worried.

But those concerns quickly vanished. The Eagles rededicated themselves to finishing out the season on a positive note and they did. They captured the program's first-ever CCC tournament championship and seized the league's automatic bid to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs.

Now, with one 'ship' under its belt, Wayne Christian begins its conquest for the ultimate 'ship' -- the state title -- Saturday afternoon. The sixth-seeded Eagles (12-2) entertain perennial power Hobgood Academy at 1 p.m.

"When we had those two losses, I saw a different group of guys the next game," Brannan said. "They were determined to turn it around. Since then, they've played relaxed and focused in every game."

And the Eagles have hit the ball.

Wayne Christian pounded out more than 30 hits in three CCC tournament outings combined. Freshman utility player Adam Brannan batted 1.000 en route to earning all-tournament accolades and boosted his average to .480.

Junior center fielder Billy Smith is hitting .468 and junior catcher Andrew Bass is batting .425. Sophomore first baseman Tyler Brannan has the next-best average at .400, followed by J.D. Hightower with .381.

Hightower, who earned MVP honors in last weekend's tournament, is the lone senior. As a team, Wayne Christian is averaging a crisp .365 at the plate.

"These guys go up there not looking to get walked," coach Brannan said. "If you throw it around the plate, they're swinging."

While that group has provided much of the offense, Brannan has gotten some solid pitching as well.

Junior left-hander Tyler Thomas is 6-0, including a strong six-inning outing in last week's CCC title game against Village Christian. Thomas notched just two strikeouts, but induced numerous ground balls and his defense played near flawless behind him.

Brannan plans to start Thomas on Saturday.

Adam Brannan, a freshman right-hander, posted four wins with his only loss occurring at Village Christian. Sophomore right-hander Kyle Pender is 2-1 and earned the save in the CCC tournament final.

Coach Brannan could possibly pitch "by committee" against the Raiders, who traditionally put a good-hitting team on the field.

"I might run two or three different pitchers in there and let them see a couple of different angles," Brannan said. "Most hitters, after they've seen you the first time, know what you're throwing and what to hit."

Two-time defending state champion Waccamaw drew the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. Rounding out the top four seeds are Rocky Mount Academy, Lawrence Academy and Faith Christian-Rocky Mount.

Other first-round games are: Northwood Temple at Northeast Academy, Greenfield at Village Christian and Wayne Country Day at Ahoskie Ridgecroft. Quarterfinal-round play continues Tuesday at the higher-seeded team.

The semifinals and finals are slated for May 13-14 at Legion Field in Whiteville. The finals are a best-of-3 series.

Wayne Christian stumbled in the opening round against Faith Christian a year ago.

"I would like to see us get that (playoff) win and build on it for next year," Brannan said. "We should be strong again. But to see them keep their focus despite losing a dominant pitcher (Thomas) and other guys step up, they kept sight of their goal.

"They didn't let themselves get distracted. That really pleases me as a head coach."

Notes: The Eagles received the program's and conference's highest seed since the league's inception in 2003. ... CCC teams are a combined 0-5 in the playoffs. ... Waccamaw has won three of the last four NCISAA titles and is ranked No. 1 in the state. ... Hobgood emerged the state champion in 2000.