08/03/08 — Southeast Regional champs: Wayne County finds team chemistry

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Southeast Regional champs: Wayne County finds team chemistry

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 3, 2008 11:04 AM

STAFFORD, Va. -- The perfect run ended in dream-like fashion.

Sweat poured down their cheeks and bright smiles covered their faces as the Wayne County players lined up along the third-base line on the Mountain View High School baseball diamond.

While the North Carolina flag waved in the light breeze, family and friends cheered loudly as the team received the 2008 Babe Ruth 9U Southeast Regional plaque. The applause didn't stop as each player and coach received an individual trophy for his success.

"Oh man, what a very special group of kids," said head coach Steve Wells. "What they did was unreal. This is the most-talented group I've ever been associated with at this age.

"They're talented from top to bottom."

Comprised of 14 players, Wayne County never tasted defeat during its historical summer run. After conversations with Babe Ruth officials, Wells believes this is the first county Little League-age team (9- to 12-years old) to advance to the Southeast Regional level.

Wayne County waltzed through the Eastern N.C. State tournament and upended West Raleigh in the championship game. Wells' team started its Southeast Regional journey with a 10-0, 4 1/2-inning victory over South Florida. Three wins later, including two against Glen Allen (Va.), Wayne County proudly hoisted the regional title plaque.

Wells team finished 9-0 overall.

"I told everyone after our first practice that I thought this was a really special group," said Wells. "To win, I knew we needed to have a whole lot of talent, catch some breaks and have some luck.

"We had all of the above."


Wells, along with assistant coaches Barry Bradley and Eddie Daniels, cobbled together a team that quickly discovered its identity. Each player contributed to the best of his ability and team chemistry soon developed.

Pitching emerged the team's strong suit, especially in the regional.

Chandler Gentry and Chandler Matthews each threw a complete game. Tanner Bradley threw four-plus innings against Glen Allen (Va.) and Cameron Kornegay picked up the save.

Gentry claimed the mound win in the regional final with Matthews getting the save. Wayne County's pitching staff allowed just 10 runs, an average of 2.5 per outing, during the regional.

"Our pitching staff was far deeper than we had to expose," said Wells. "We did not get as deep into our pitching staff because of Gentry's, Matthews' and Bradley's outstanding efforts. That helped us throughout the tournament because we were able to save some innings."

Had Wayne County dropped into the losers' bracket, Wells remained confident he enough pitching in the well to reach the championship. But he never had to worry.

Timely hitting factored into the team's success.

Hunter Burt's sixth-inning hit against Union City (Tenn.) helped ignite a last-inning uprising. Derek Neal's two-out, two-RBI single in the first meeting against Glen Allen put Wayne County in the final.

In the second Glen Allen battle, Burt and Evan Aycock's pinch-hit sacrifice bunt started a three-run eruption. Burt scored the game-winning run and Wayne County tacked on two more.

Wells' team added a fifth-inning insurance run to earn regional supremacy.

"This team was so strong offensively for a 9-year-old team," said Wells. "We always felt like we were in the ballgame. We knew going into any given game that we were going to get our five or six runs.

"It was a matter if we could hold the other teams to less."

Wells heaped praise on every player in the starting lineup and also credited the bench for its contribution. Noah Daniels, Jake Flowers, Caleb Matthews and Aycock all provided key moments in Wayne County's phenomenal run.

Noah Forrester played in the state tournament, but due to family obligations, could not participate in the regional. He did make the four-hour jaunt on the final day to cheer on his teammates.

"That was a classy move on Noah's part and his family's part," said Wells. "One of the things to stress in this day and age of Babe Ruth baseball is Goldsboro and Wayne County are still considered smaller areas. For us to accomplish what we accomplished was pretty outstanding. I have coached All-Star teams before and we've been OK.

"This group was unusually talented for their age. It was a pleasure for me to be a part of it."

After all, everyone loves perfection.