06/03/05 — Hawk baseball focused heading into title

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Hawk baseball focused heading into title

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 3, 2005 3:01 PM

LAGRANGE -- Veteran North Lenoir baseball coach Jim Montague has been around the game long enough to know there is a balance between a serious approach and having fun.

In fact, while wearing a shirt at a recent practice that says simply, "Baseball is fun," Montague instructs a player taking some swings to, "hit line drives."

He had concerns at times this season that the 2005 Hawks' squad might be a little too loose and laid back. The concern was understandable if you've been to a North Lenoir basketball game in Wheat Swamp lately.

Most of North Lenoir's baseball team is made up of "The Hawk Crazies," a rabid, green-clad collection of students/fans that often wreak havoc on opposing teams in Wooten Gymnasium.

"I tried my best to get them to separate the Hawk Crazies from baseball," Montague said. "You have to be in the right mind set."

As the season continued, it started becoming more apparent to Montague that this group was focused. Especially now as North Lenoir prepares for the Class 2-A N.C. High School Athletic Association State Championship series with Black Mountain Owen.

The best-of-three series starts tonight at 7 p.m. at a neutral site, Raleigh Wakefield High School.

As Montague meticulously looked over the required stats that each coach must submit to the NCHSAA before state championships, he confidently left his team on the field with assistant coach, C.C. Tilghman and knew practice would go on without a glitch.

"I'm in here trying to get stuff ready for the folks in Chapel Hill, but I can hear what's going on out there," he said. "They are coaching themselves. They see a pop up, and they remind each other we want line drives."

Collectively, the Hawks have been hitting the ball plenty hard.

Nine different players are hitting over .300 on the season, paced by sophomore Taylor Ginn's .404 clip. In the playoffs, junior Alex McGaughy is one of three Hawks with at least 16 plate appearances hitting over .600.

As a team, they are hitting .337 in 26 games and a stout .430 during an unbeaten, five-game playoff run.

"When I make out my lineup, I've got a bunch of people I can bat in different places," Montague said. "I told them when the playoffs started, 'those of you who have been consisent, try to keep it up. One or two who have been streaky, we need some more out of you.'

"Those guys have stepped up. Win or lose, these kids will have something they can remember the rest of their lives."

North Lenoir's pitching performances have been solid as well.

Sophomore ace Stihl Sowers enters the state championship with a 9-1 record with two saves, while posting a 1.08 earned run average and 89 strikeouts. Fellow sophomore Brandon Sutton has turned in a 7-1 mark with a 2.30 ERA and 73 K's. Both have two shutouts each.

Defensively, the Hawks have made less than an error per game. Montague believes continued defensive consistency will be a huge key against Owen.

"I know they (Owen) hit the baseball. We've scored a lot of runs in the playoffs, but I think they have scored more," he said. "I'm a firm believer in defense. It wins championships. We need to keep the leadoff batter from getting on base. If the leadoff batter gets on, let them earn it."

The Hawks' eight seniors; twins Donald and Douglas Beal, Josh Williams, Jacob Alphin, Josh Baird, Andrew Pope, Douglas Beal, Dustin Bannister and Marvin Buck, will obviously be missed. But, Sowers, Ginn and Sutton highlight Montague's talented sophomore class with apparently more talent coming up from the junior varsity next year.

Is 2005 the first of several Hawk runs deep in the postseason?

"Unless I completely mess up the program, it should be pretty good for several more years. We've got several players on the JV that I thought about calling up in the playoffs, but these are the 17 that got us here," Montague said. "They know that they can do this for the next two years if they want to. But, it takes a lot of hardwork and dedication to make it this far."