06/12/05 — News-Argus Baseball coach of the year -- Jim Montague

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News-Argus Baseball coach of the year -- Jim Montague

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 12, 2005 2:05 AM

LAGRANGE -- Just when he thinks it's safe to sneak away and take his family to Goose Creek, a telephone call or a knock on the door interrupts Jim Montague's vacation plans.

That's what happens when you win a state title.

Well-wishers have flooded Montague's telephone line with congratulatory calls. Others have worn a path to either his front door at home or his office at North Lenoir.

Restaurant owners in the surrounding communities have fed Montague's baseball team in honor of its N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A championship -- the first-ever in any men's sport in the school's 41-year history.

Hawk baseball is definitely the buzz.

"Every day is still a pleasant experience," said a grinning Montague.

Montague hasn't returned from the euphoria of finally claiming a prize that eluded him twice in 1992 and 1993. Each of those seasons, the Hawks fell in the NCHSAA 3-A eastern regional finals.

Who would have thought that 10-plus years later that North Lenoir, with four sophomores in the lineup, would emerge a state champion?

The turning point occurred after a 2-1 loss to North Pitt.

"I told them you've got some unfinished business," Montague said. "The next day all of them came to school with T-shirts ... had taken black magic markers and wrote 'unfinished business' on them.

"I thought this is the right step because the whole team has them on."

The players hung a T-shirt scribed with 'unfinished business' in the dugout. The daily reminder provided constant motivation for the Hawks, who didn't lose again.

They tied archrival South Lenoir for the Eastern Plains Conference regular-season title and drew the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. They reeled off seven consecutive postseason victories, including a sweep of Swannanoa Owen in the best-of-3 championship final.

Montague said team unity, especially the leadership from the seniors, proved to be the critical part of North Lenoir's success. Justin Carter, nicknamed "The Reverend" by his teammates, played a key role in leadership.

He said a prayer after each practice and game.

"He always had the right words to say," Montague said.

Once the Hawks entered the playoffs, the community embraced the team and followed their historic journey pitch by pitch and out by out.

"I told the kids that you're going to see people that you haven't seen all year," Montague said. "If you keep winning, they're going to keep coming because curiosity kills the cat. It's been great for Lenoir County and it's been great for LaGrange.

"Avid baseball fans have expressed how proud they are of these kids. They've done something they're going to remember for the rest of their lives."

A celebration is planned today from 3-5 p.m. in the school auditorium to recognize the baseball and softball teams for their record-setting accomplishments. Afterwards, everyone will enjoy an old-fashioned pig-pickin'.