Eagles soar in NCISAA playoffs
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 8, 2005 2:13 AM
Less than 20 minutes after the game-ending strikeout, a van pulled up near the sign sitting in front of Wayne Christian School. Moments later, two people exited the van and composed a simple message -- "Congrats baseball."
The two words spoke volumes about the Eagles, who accomplished a first in school history and finally gave the Class 1-A Carolina Christian Conference a little respect on the state level.
Adam Brannan threw two superb innings of two-strikeout relief, sparking Wayne Christian to a 13-9 conquest of Hobgood Academy in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs. Until Saturday afternoon's victory, CCC teams had fashioned an 0-5 postseason record since 2003.
"This is a really good feeling," Eagles coach Tim Brannan said.
Oh, it gets better.
The sixth-seeded Eagles (13-2) finished unbeaten at home. They also became just the second team in school history to claim a home playoff win since the volleyball team defeated Statesville Christian on Oct. 22, 2003.
Hobgood, the No. 11 seed from the Tarheel Independent Conference, remained winless in its last four playoff outings. The Raiders concluded the year 8-8.
The seven-inning contest featured ties at 4-4 and 7-7 before Wayne Christian took command in the sixth on a gutsy base-running move.
With Kyle Pender at second and Jordan Yelverton on third, Raider right-hander Adam Whitehead uncorked a wild pitch. Yelverton, who gave himself a little running space during Whitehead's wind-up, hustled home.
Yelverton safely slid across the plate as catcher Nick Cannon applied a late tag. Brannan praised Yelverton's tactic and said the players have the green light to score from third, but it's their judgment call.
Yelverton, admittedly, never hesitated.
"I was thinking we need this run to help us win," a grinning Yelverton said. "I wanted to take that jump and get a little extra cushion."
Pender crossed the plate seconds later behind Yelverton on an infield error. Center fielder Billy Smith provided the final run on a two-out single to right field.
A little relieved, but not nervous, Adam Brannan headed back to the mound. He yielded a lead-off single to Aaron Boyd and a fielder's choice grounder to Tripp Peele. Boyd got caught on the fielder's choice. Eagle catcher Andrew Bass gunned down Peele, who attempted to steal second.
Lead-off batter Trey James worked Brannan to a 2-2 count. A confident Brannan threw a low curveball outside and James freely swung, but failed to connect.
Brannan clinched the save and the Eagles secured their place in school history.
"I felt like I had to finish it up," said Brannan. "I really didn't feel any pressure ... well ... a little bit. I probably threw a little bit harder than Thomas (Tyler), and I finally got my curveball working today."
The aggressive-minded Raiders collected nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits against Thomas, who remained unbeaten in seven outings. The Eagles also uncharacteristically committed six errors behind the left-handed sophomore, who threw five-plus innings.
"I thought Tyler pitched better than what we gave him on defense," coach Brannan said.
Wayne Christian erased deficits of 4-0 and 7-4.
Designated hitter Jeremy Jefferson ignited a four-run uprising in the second inning with a two-RBI single. J.D. Hightower added an RBI single and the Eagles got another run on a bases-loaded walk.
Hightower pulled the Eagles within 7-5 on an RBI single in the fourth. Hightower added an RBI in the fifth along with Jefferson and Smith. The second deficit turned into a 10-7 advantage.
"That was real big for our team ... probably the biggest part of the day," Yelverton said. "We always try to respond to everything they (opponents) do."
Coach Brannan said that last year's team might have folded once it fell behind by four runs. However, this team showed its maturity by taking selective approaches at the plate.
The Eagles banged out 11 hits, including just one double. Hightower concluded the day 3-for-5 with three RBI. Jefferson added two hits and three RBI in five at-bats. T.A. Brannan contributed two singles.
Seven of nine Wayne Christian starters had at least one hit overall.
Players huddled in right field and listened to coach Brannan's post-game notes. A few minutes later, the familiar cry of "1-2-3 'Ship'" echoed through the trees.
One 'ship' -- the CCC tournament title -- has been achieved. The Eagles continue their quest for a second 'ship' Tuesday at third-seeded Lawrence Academy.
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