06/12/05 — News-Argus Baseball player of the year -- Jesse Lancaster

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News-Argus Baseball player of the year -- Jesse Lancaster

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 12, 2005 2:05 AM

"The zone."

For athletes, it's loosely defined as a moment or series of moments where everything works in a person's favor.

Not all performers experience it. Those who do may not be able to describe it, but they know it's happening.

Eastern Wayne graduate Jesse Lancaster had one of those impressive stretches this season.

During a 35-inning span leading up to the postseason, the senior right-hander yielded just one run. Lancaster tossed four complete games, three coming in Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference play. The stretch was highlighted by a 16-strikeout, two-hit shutout at eventual league champion West Carteret on April 23.

"I just had a rhythm. I got good breaks between games and didn't pitch tired," Lancaster said. "I don't think I missed too many spots in there. My goal was to not let them score. The one run I gave up was at Southern Wayne. I threw one in the dirt and it skidded it off the plate and got away from Tyler (Ham).

"One of the reasons I pitched so good was because of him (Ham)."

Lancaster, the son of Mount Olive baseball coach Carl Lancaster and Robbie Lancaster, finished with an earned run average of 1.03 and had 86 strikeouts in 67 innings. He went 5-3 on the mound with one save. At the plate, the senior batted .348 with 11 RBI and a team-best four home runs.

Numbers aside, Lancaster was a true team leader. He knew coming into the season that contending for a conference title, or even getting into the playoffs wouldn't be easy as the ECC received just three berths this year.

Eventually, the Warriors finished 12-4 in conference play and earned the league's second seed. Eastern Wayne emerged the lone Wayne County team to reach the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs in 2005, eventually falling in the first round at Wilson Fike.

Sure, Lancaster's numbers were important to that run. But, his leadership qualities and work ethic -- and how it rubbed off on his teammates -- were equally as crucial.

"There's no stat for being a leader. It reflects on your teammates play," Eastern Wayne coach Jabo Fulghum said. "He wasn't the only leader, but he was one of the important leaders we had. He possessed the inner drive to succeed every day.

"There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't want the guys or himself to get better. You can't coach that."

How much did Lancaster's influence affect his teammates?

A bunch of shaved-haired Warriors at the end of the season tells the story. In the midst of a late-season slide at the plate, Lancaster decided to shave his hair close with a two-guard. In waves, his teammates also shaved their heads in a sign of team unity.

"One or two said they would do it, then three or four had it done," said Lancaster, who will likely play college baseball at either Mount Olive or East Carolina. "By the end of the year, basically the whole team had it done. Even some that had to ask their mamas and girlfriends."