06/10/07 — Princeton's Pate redeems himself

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Princeton's Pate redeems himself

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on June 10, 2007 2:02 AM

ZEBULON -- For Dustin Pate, the pitcher's mound was a lonely spot during last weekend's state championship series against East Surry.

The senior right-hander had climbed back into the pitching rotation just two weeks earlier after battling a season-long elbow injury.

When Pate toed the rubber at Five County Stadium, he got off to a great start in game two with Princeton leading 1-0 in the best-of three, N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A finals. He retired the first two batters he faced, but couldn't enjoy the moment for too long.

The next five Cardinals reached base via two doubles and three walks.

As the East Surry lead grew, so did Pate's frustration.

"I don't want to blame it on the umpire, but he was so tight with his strike zone that it got me frustrated," said Pate. "I got down on myself."

East Surry scored three runs and Pate's troubles returned in the second inning. Back-to-back walks put the Cardinals in business again.

Princeton head coach Bruce Proctor slowly walked toward the mound and after a brief conversation, Pate's pitching duties had ended.

"He's been hurt all year long," said Proctor. "We thought we had him back, but I think it's still bothering him -- though he wouldn't tell us if it was."

With Princeton trailing 3-0, Pate re-entered the game and contributed the way he has all season long -- with his bat.

"I told my guys that I was going to get those runs back that I gave up and I tried my best to do that," said Pate.

East Surry starter Jordan Jessup shut down the Princeton offense through three innings, but Pate gave it a jumpstart in the fourth. He followed Andrew Cobb's two-out triple with a towering shot that deflected off the "M" of the Mudcats' giant scoreboard in center field.

The tape-measure rip electrified the Bulldog faithful and Pate's teammates.

When asked, Pate had no idea if he had ever hit a ball that well or that far.

"I've never hit (a home run) in that big of a game," he said. "I'm in the Mudcats' stadium and I hit a home run. It's unreal."

Trailing 4-2 in the sixth inning, Pate nearly fulfilled his promise as he drove home tournament Most Valuable Player Ryan Daughtry with an RBI single. But the Bulldogs couldn't get Pate home as he was left stranded on third base.

"I did my part, but it just wasn't enough to win the game," said Pate.

Pate started the decisive third game at third base. He continued his hot hitting at the plate, including a two-run single that gave the Dawgs a 4-1 advantage. That turned out be the all the runs Princeton needed.

The final margin was 7-3 when the final out was recorded in the bottom of the seventh, clinching Princeton's third state title in program history and first since 1994. The tears of celebration washing away Pate's ill-fated pitching performance earlier that day.

"I was really happy because I got really down on myself and everything," Pate said. "To come back and win it all really boosted me up. I don't know how to put it into words."

Pate finished the three-game series 5-for-9 with a double, homer and six RBI.

"He contributed how he could ... with his stick," said Proctor. "He had a fantastic tournament."