05/29/05 — NL baseball

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NL baseball

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 29, 2005 2:09 AM

LAGRANGE -- Picture perfect.

That's the best way to describe North Lenoir's 5-2 win over visiting Randleman. On a beautiful night, before a standing room only crowd in Wheat Swamp, Hawks' coach Jim Montague's club wrapped up the Class 2-A N.C. High School Athletic Association Eastern championship.

They will become the first men's team to play for a state championship in school history in any sport. North Lenoir will face the winner of West Stokes and Black Mountain Owen when the best-of-three State Championship begins next Friday.

North Lenoir, which swept the two-game series, followed the proverbial top three maxims of baseball. They played perfect defense, not making an error, compared to five for their guests. Offensively, they kept the ball in play, and took full advantage of the majority of their scoring opportunities.

Randleman was unable to deal with Hawks' pitcher Stihl Sowers, who picked up his eighth win of the year -- throwing a nifty two hitter.

"I was just a little nervous ... getting control of my curve and flutter ball," Sowers said. "I finally settled down, got comfortable, just let it go and let my defense take care of the rest.The last inning was one of the best I've pitched all season."

Take care of it, they did. The infield was involved in twelve put-outs. Third baseman Taylor Ginn had four assists.

"We brought Taylor up from our junior varsity team just before the beginning of conference play just for his glove," Montague said.

Second baseman Donald Beal also had four assists and an unassisted put out.

"In our last five or six games," added Montague, "Beal really became a great leader."

Shortstop Josh Williams barehanded a shot off Sowers' leg and his throw to first baseman Brian Smith just caught the runner.

Each outfielder made at least one crucial catch. Rightfielder Brandon Sutton made an over-the-shoulder snare of Justin Osborne's drive to lead off the fourth.

Leftfielder Andrew Manning got his chances next. After making a grab to end the fourth, he hauled in Ben Bunting's shot up against the fence for a crucial first out in the sixth. Centerfielder Jacob Alphin's catch ended the inning.

"We played with two hurt outfielders tonight," said Montague. "Alphin has a torn ACL. Manning was hobbled by fouling a ball off his foot."

After Randleman scored in the top of the first, it took North Lenoir only an inning to get the range on J.T. Trogdon's off-speed deliveries. The Hawks tied the game in their half of the second.

With one out Beal singled up the middle. After stealing second, he scored on an Alphin single to right.

North Lenoir made it 3-1 in the fourth. Singles by Sowers, Williams, and designated hitter Alex McGaughy brought home Alphin and Sowers.

The Hawks picked up two crucial insurance runs in the fifth as errors put Manning and Alphin on board. Manning made the heads-up offensive play of the game when he calmly waited at second for Alphin's ball to reach the shortstop, before heading to third.

The distraction was enough for Alphin to be safe. The duo came home on singles by Sowers and Ginn.

"We've had our foot in the door a few times before," said Montague. "Tonight, we went through that door."