07/21/06 — A team effort - Post 11 Juniors open state tournament Saturday

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A team effort - Post 11 Juniors open state tournament Saturday

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on July 21, 2006 2:14 PM

Wayne County's run to the Junior Legion State Tournament hasn't been reliant on one key hitter in the middle of the order or one dominant ace on the mound.

For Post 11, emerging as one of the best eight teams in North Carolina has been a true team effort.

During the playoffs, eight different players have had at least one, 2-hit game. Taylor Allen has been the mound leader in the postseason with three wins, but Cody Richards, Sterling Grice, Byron Powell and Michael Douglas have all turned in solid performances.

The state tournament begins Saturday morning in Wake County as Wayne (19-5), the top seed in its pool, opens up the first day of pool play with a 10 a.m. contest against fourth-seeded Southern Alamance at Cary High School. No. 2 Pineville faces No. 3 Wilson in the bracket's other morning contest -- held at Cardinal Gibbons. The two winners and losers will meet at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Rowan County, Cary Bulls, Aberdeen-Sandhills and Scotland County make up the other bracket.

Two teams will be eliminated after Saturday's play and four will likely be eliminated after Sunday. The two teams remaining will face off in a best-of-3 championship series beginning Monday.

"We've worked all year long to get here. That's what we've wanted since the beginning of the summer," first-year coach Nelson Cunningham said. "It's hard for 16 and 17-year- olds to take this kind of responsibility to give up a lot of vacation time and work hard on this ballfield everyday."

For Wayne to continue its deepest postseason run since 2002, it will need continued balance and consistency by all 17 players.

"We've got 17 boys out wanting to play ball. They never give up. That keeps you in the ballgame and in a position to win every one," Cunningham said. "We're not going to do anything different. When you go to changing stuff, things can fall apart. We just need to hustle and do the little things, and it will fall into place for us."

Things certainly have fell into place for Wayne during the playoffs as it has fashioned a 6-2 mark in the postseason. At the Eastern N.C. Tournament last Saturday in Johnston County, Post 11 held on to a 3-2 win over Aberdeen-Sandhills when Grice fielded a bunt and tossed to catcher Garrett Barfield to keep the tying run from scoring on a squeeze play.

"We all know each other and have played with and against each other for so long," Barfield said. "We know anyone is capable of stepping up to make a big play to help us win."

Later that day, Wayne rightfielder Nolan Lancaster slapped a two-out, two-strike hit to right field against Wilson to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. The throw home was late and skipped away from the Wilson catcher as Allen scampered home for the game-winning run to send Post 11 into the state tourney.

Wayne has won five games by two runs or less and three of its five losses have been by one run -- including a heart-breaking 5-4 setback in eight innings at Northern Nash in Game 1 of the second round of the playoffs. But they haven't all been close. One day after a 13-hit output against Roanoke Rapids at home, Post 11 got revenge at Northern Nash with 18 hits in a 23-7 route in five innings -- marking the ninth time they have scored 10 or more in a game this season.

"We've won in every different fashion imaginable," Cunningham said. "I attribute that to not having one guy that we have to rely on. Somebody different shines each night. We've got some good leaders on this team."

Six of Wayne's 17 players have had significant playing time at the varsity level and have been in big games before. Cunningham also attributes his team's success to the quality of coaches in Wayne County at the high school level.

"It makes it easier when you've got boys coming from the schools that we do. All these kids know the little things," he said. "The main thing for us is just getting the chemistry to work."

Cunningham, a Charles B. Aycock graduate and Eastern Wayne assistant coach, also complemented the efforts of his assistant coaches, Chuck Crumpler and Matt Bryan -- both Southern Wayne grads.

"This is the first year I've been able to be a head coach. I've enjoyed it," he said. "I didn't know a lot of the boys coming out, but I've got to know them, and they've taught me a lot. I've had some good coaches working with me in Crumpler and Bryan and also Pat Gurley our scorekeeper in the dugout."

On a statistically balanced team, designated hitter Tyler Wicks (11 hits, HR, 4 RBIs); Lancaster (10 hits, HR, 6 RBIs) and first baseman Scott Holloman (8 hits, HR, 10 RBIs) have led the way the last five games, while Alex Casey and Byron Powell have five hits each.