05/28/09 — Warriors' Gourley embracing leadership role

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Warriors' Gourley embracing leadership role

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 28, 2009 1:46 PM

Walker Gourley understands that with great talent comes great responsibility.

A lead-off hitter and shortstop, Gourley has embraced his leadership role and thrived in key moments during Eastern Wayne's playoff run this season.

During the postseason, including the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference tournament, Gourley has collected seven hits, driven in eight runs and belted two home runs. In each instance, the round-tripper has led to a game-winning result.

"I've just been patient and not tried to do too much," said Gourley. "I've tried to stay within myself and make the best out of what they give me at the plate. I've also tried to not swing at bad pitches."

A relentless work ethic has been the undeniable driving force behind Gourley and the Warriors' success on the baseball diamond this spring. The commitment to spending long hours, even weekends, practicing has paid dividends as the stakes continue to get higher.

No. 5-ranked Eastern Wayne (23-4 overall) entertains Northern Nash today for Game 1 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern regional championship series. First pitch is 7 p.m.

The Warriors are making their first regional appearance since 1986, while the Knights are back for the second time in the past three seasons. Northern Nash lost to eventual state champion Charles B. Aycock in the 2007 regional finals.

"Everyday we come to practice, Coach (Jabo) Fulghum tells us we're trying to get better," said Gourley. "I think we've done a good job of not getting complacent and working hard every day. I think that's really paid off."

Gourley has accepted the pressure of postseason. The East Carolina signee realizes that one loss and his prep career is done. He has also grasped the importance of leaving a lasting example for teammates who have observed his every move on and off the field.

"You do think about this could be your last game, but you play every game the same," said Gourley. "As seniors, it's up to me and John (Wooten) to set the example and we try to do the best job we can. You're only as good as your last performance.

"You can't be satisfied and you've got to be hungry, and I definitely think we are."

Gourley has hit safely in three of four postseason games. For the season, he's batting a crisp .488 with 40 hits, 22 RBI and four homers in 82 at-bats.

"He's got good wheels and a good eye for the baseball," said coach Fulghum. "He's led off the last two years or maybe three. Our guys down in the order have been good at getting on and then here comes Gourley."

Wooten, a lifelong friend and fellow senior, has provided extra meaning for Gourley during the postseason. The two have played baseball together since their early years.

The strong relationship has created a freedom between the two friends, who either critique or motivate each other at any given time.

"Walker and I have been playing together since we were three-years-old," said Wooten. "We live on the same street. We bounce stuff off each other all the time. He's a great teammate and a great friend."

Eastern Wayne successfully defended its Eastern Carolina 3-A regular-season championship, claimed its first-ever ECC tournament crown and is in the regional finals for just the third time in program history.

Those achievements are fine.

But Gourley wants more.

"Winning a state championship would mean the world to me," said Gourley. "I think it's meant to happen. I think we've had the right things fall into place for us. I think we're all on the same page and ready to go after it."