Playoff win serves as addition to Hawks' tradition
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 24, 2005 2:13 PM
LAGRANGE -- Words just couldn't describe the importance of North Lenoir's eastern semifinal baseball contest against tradition-rich Whiteville. So, Hawks coach Jim Montague did the next best thing.
He assembled his players behind their dugout. Silhouetted by a bright sun, Montague pointed to a set of dates painted in black which represented conference titles and playoff appearances.
He reminded his current team of the previous players who laid the foundation for the program's success and encouraged his youngsters to play not only for them, but the community as well.
"I told the guys to look at these dates," Montague said. "Every one of these guys who graduated in the past are pulling for you, if they haven't called today. They're wishing that they had had that extra base hit or had that extra ground ball hit to them.
"I said, don't walk out here tonight leaving it in your head. Leave it on the field."
The message didn't fall on deaf ears, especially Sthil Sowers.
A right-handed sophomore, Sowers threw a complete-game three-hitter as the Hawks blitzed the Wolfpack 10-0 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A playoffs. The victory vaulted North Lenoir (20-4) into the best-of-three eastern regional championship series slated for Thursday-Saturday at Clark-LeClair Stadium at East Carolina University, where the Hawks will face the winner between Randleman and Pittsboro Northwood.
"This was very big," a grinning Sowers said. "It made me feel good that coach wanted me to be in this situation to pitch this game for him."
Sowers gained immeasurable confidence early. He retired Whiteville on three consecutive strikeouts in the top half of the first innings and retired all nine batters he faced through three innings.
The Wolfpack, seeded No. 2 from the Waccamaw Conference, hit into three groundouts and struck out five times. Hawks left fielder Andrew Manning snagged a line drive to deny Robbie Penny a double into the gap.
"His slider, a.ka. 'the gotcha' is his go-to pitch," Hawks catcher Andrew Pope said of Sowers. "If it's on, no one can hardly touch it. It got them. We knew about five batters, so we had to play by how they did the first at-bat and go from there. We really didn't have a good scouting report on them."
Marquis Smith foiled Sowers' perfect-game bid with a lead-off walk in the fourth. Justin Batchelor denied Sowers his no-hitter with a two-strike single to right field.
Despite those minor hiccups, Sowers retired the next seven batters he faced before yielding another single to Batchelor. Batchelor finished with two hits in three at-bats.
"In the fourth inning, Sthil was getting his breaking pitches up ... hanging in the strike zone," Montague said. "We've rode that 10th-grader right much, but I don't think we've overdone our pitchers. He was tired and we saw that. (Dustin) Bannister was coming in."
Sowers (8-1) collected eight strikeouts and walked two Wolfpack batters.
The Hawks, ranked 10th in the latest ImpactBaseball.com poll, jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Donald Beal slapped a double down the left-field line and scored on Jacob Alphin's fielder's choice. With two outs, Sowers belted a solo home run over the left center field fence. Taylor Ginn, a right-handed hitter, followed with an opposite-field home run.
"I was ahead in the count and I figured he was coming with a fastball," said Sowers, the No. 8 hitter in the batting order. "I was looking to get a hit because I didn't want to walk. Right away when I saw it was coming straight, I swung with all I had. I hit it hard backside and it carried on out of here.
"Getting the insurance runs ... something to work with ... helped me a lot. That gave me a little confidence on the mound and helped boost the team. That was real big."
North Lenoir added a single run in the third before breaking the game open in the fifth.
Two infield errors on the same play ignited a five-run uprising that allowed the Hawks to break the Wolfpack's spirit. The miscue, along with RBI singles from Sowers and Ginn, boosted the lead to 9-0. Beal's two-out single in the sixth ended game with the 10-run mercy rule.
"We hit the ball well," Montague said. "We got some production out of the bottom of our lineup. What can you say except we played a good ball game."
The Hawks accumulated nine hits, giving them 34 total in three postseason games. Designated hitter Alex McGaughy batted 2-for-2 with two walks and has seven hits in the playoffs. Beal, Sowers and Ginn each provided two hits. Brandon Sutton added one hit in three plate appearances.
Whiteville concluded the year 19-5. Absent from the playoffs each of the past two seasons, the Wolfpack missed its chance to return to the regional title game for the first time since 2002.
North Lenoir's last regional appearances occurred in 1992 and 1993 when it competed in the old Coastal 3-A Conference.
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