06/05/05 — Hawks seize 2-A baseball title

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Hawks seize 2-A baseball title

By News-Argus Staff
Published in Sports on June 5, 2005 2:04 AM

RALEIGH -- They're going to have to come up with a new slogan.

The North Lenoir baseball team -- which adopted the mantra "Unfinished Business" -- knocked off Black Mountain Owen, 5-1, on Saturday to sweep past the Warhorses in the best-of-three N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A championship series at Wakefield High School.

"Words just cannot describe what these guys have done all year long," North Lenoir coach Jim Montague said. "They came through in the clutch. Their favorite saying was 'Unfinished Business.' Well, today, they finished it."

The win was the first in any team sport in North Lenoir High School's 41-year history. The Hawks had made the state championship in a sport only once before when the basketball team made it to the 3A final in 1971.

Montague led the Hawks to the eastern 3-A finals in 1992 and '93, but the team lost in each of those games. Winning Saturday's game and bringing North Lenoir its first title was what "Unfinished Business" -- a slogan the Hawks adopted nearly a month ago and before nine straight wins -- meant to the players.

"It's finished business now," championship MVP Jacob Alphin said. "The Hawks have finished their unfinished business now."

North Lenoir right fielder Josh Williams said, "We finished the business. We brought it home to Lenoir County."

The Hawks (24-4) took most of the drama out of the game quickly. After scoreless first inning, North Lenoir put four runs on the scoreboard in the second inning thanks to timely hits and shoddy Owen defense.

Andrew Manning led off the frame by reaching on a third-strike passed ball and was singled to second by Donald Beal. Brian Smith tried to sacrifice bunt the pair over, but his attempt was bobbled, then thrown away by Owen pitcher Kyle Chandler. The throwing error scored Manning for a 1-0 lead.

Alphin, who had the game-winning two-run single in Friday's 3-1 victory, delivered again, sending a single to right field that plated Beal and Smith. Williams closed the second-inning scoring by sending Alphin home with a two-out single.

The frame was, quite literally, the back-breaker for Owen.

"That inning really hurt us," Owen coach Anthony Lee said. "But what really hurt us was that you look up there and we had five hits today and four hits yesterday. That's really uncharacteristic of us in the playoffs because we've really been hitting it.

"But that's a credit to (North Lenoir's) pitching. They did a good job keeping us off-balance."

North Lenoir sophomore pitcher Brandon Sutton was responsible for shutting down the Warhorses on Saturday, who entered the series batting over .330 as a team. Sutton, a crafty southpaw who mixed a curveball and knuckler with a fastball, struck out seven Warhorses, walked three and only gave up five hits and one earned run on 102 pitches.

"I hit my corners and tried to work ahead of the batters," Sutton said.

There was no shortage of offensive heroes for the Hawks. Alphin, Williams and Beal were each 3-for-3. Williams and Alphin finished with two RBI each and Alphin also scored twice. Smith finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and Sthil Sowers had two sacrifice bunts.

North Lenoir's 11 hits certainly impressed their coach.

"It's nothing we've done to teach them to be a great hitting team," Montague said. "They just don't quit. I have the luxury, one through nine, of knowing somebody is going to come through with a hit."

Owen (22-8) scored its lone run in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by B.J. Perry. North Lenoir added its final run in the fourth when Williams singled home Alphin, who had led off the frame with a single to left.

Neither team allowed another run the rest of the way. Sutton only gave up one hit over the final 4 2/3 innings.

Like most coaches, Montague wasn't ready to celebrate until the final out.

"But I kind of felt good after the first out in the seventh inning, because we reached our goal of getting the first guy out in every inning," Montague said. "When we got the second out and I saw 5-1 on the scoreboard, I thought, 'We might have this one.'"

And when the final out -- a routine grounder to Beal that he fired to Smith at first base -- happened, the celebration formally started on the field.

"On the last out of the game, there is no better feeling than the one I had today," Sowers said. "There was no better way for the game to end."