05/17/05 — NCHSAA baseball playoffs begin tonight

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NCHSAA baseball playoffs begin tonight

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 17, 2005 1:46 PM

Of the 12 public schools in the News-Argus coverage area, only three qualified for the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Of course, only seven postseason spots were up for grabs in the three conferences -- Eastern Carolina 3-A, Eastern Plains 2-A and Carolina 1-A -- combined.

It was obviously a year where berths were limited. The tough, rivalry-filled leagues proved as competitive as ever -- especially at the top.

Eastern Wayne (ECC), North Lenoir (EPC) and Princeton (Carolina) emerged out of their respective, double round-robin conference schedules and open postseason play tonight.

The Warriors travel to Wilson Fike in the first round, while the Hawks are at home against Swansboro and the Bulldogs host North Brunswick.

Each coach clearly hopes their tough conference slates will have them prepared for the playoffs.

"There will be nothing in the postseason we haven't seen. This conference should have prepared us," said coach Jabo Fulghum, who guided Eastern Wayne to a second-place finish in the ECC. "There are still two good teams (C.B. Aycock, Southern Wayne) that are home.

"Those two teams could have went deep into the playoffs."

The Warriors (14-8, 12-4 ECC) were led on the mound and at the plate by seniors Jesse Lancaster and Airlon Vinson. Lancaster has given up just one run in the past 35 innings and has an earned run average of 0.82 on the season. He's hitting .385 with four home runs.

Vinson, a left-hander, is batting .380 with three, round-trippers.

Fulghum also praised the leadership of fellow seniors Chris Davis, Trey Johnson, Tyler Mitchell, Billy McKinley and Lane Ward.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, catcher Tyler Ham, who usually hits in the middle of the order, is out with a broken arm after being hit by a pitch at Aycock during the final week of the regular season.

Fulghum said Joey Burridge will likely assume the catching duties, especially when Lancaster, who caught in the finale against Kinston, is on the mound.

"We're expecting Joey Burridge to take his role, and hopefully he'll be able to step it up," Fulghum said. "We have great team chemistry. It's been one of the key things to put us where we are. It seems like all the guys are on the same page .. team first and me second."

Switching to the 1-A ranks, Princeton (17-6 overall) followed up its Eastern Regional championship season in 2004 with an outright Carolina Conference title in 2005 after a 10-2 finish in the league.

Bulldogs ace Josh Thompson picked up where he left off last postseason with an 8-1 senior campaign with a .088 ERA and two saves.

Proctor praised the efforts of the 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander for his efforts in the off-season in the weight room.

"He came on strong in the playoffs last year, and he killed himself in the weight room over the offseason," Proctor said. "He's really worked hard and it's paid off."

Dustin Myers remained a consistent second starter and keyed a balanced offensive attack in the middle of the order. Daniel Gerrell, Brandon Pate and Colin Parker also had solid offensive outputs for Princeton.

"We had different guys step up on a given night," Proctor said. "This is the same team as last year, except you replace Zach Harmon with his brother Kyle. It's not very different, except this year we have seven seniors.

"I would like to think we have the same horseshoe as last year."

Under coach Jim Montague, North Lenoir (17-4, 7-3 EPC) returns to the postseason for the first time since 2002.

Montague's squad, that just missed out on the playoffs last year, is still young, but obviously talented. All sophomores, Stihl Sowers, Brandon Sutton and Taylor Ginn have proved catalysts for the Hawks with Sowers and Sutton the stalwarts on the mound.

Junior Brian Smith and seniors Donald Beal and Josh Williams have also contributed stout performances.

"It's hard to put your finger on this team. They are very close, and at times they are too laid back for me," Montague said. "They've been winners all year. Most of these guys played on a junior legion team last year that went far in the playoffs. It's a culmination of things."