05/05/12 — Wayne Christian wins 8th consecutive CCC baseball tournament crown

View Archive

Wayne Christian wins 8th consecutive CCC baseball tournament crown

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 5, 2012 11:15 PM


News-Argus Sports Editor

The streak appeared in jeopardy until Mother nature intervened Friday evening.

Wayne Christian gathered its collective breath during the 73-minute lightning delay and continued a tradition established by a previous senior class seven years ago.

Chase Darden swatted a third-inning grand slam and the top-seeded Eagles claimed an unprecedented eighth consecutive Carolina Christian 1-A Conference tournament championship with a 14-4, mercy-rule victory over Grace Christian of Sanford.

Wayne Christian (15-5 overall) seized the league's automatic bid to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs, which begin either Friday or Saturday. The 16-team field will be unveiled Wednesday.

"We got the conference sweep," first-year WCS head coach Curt Hinton said. "I'm very proud of the guys, especially with the mix we have ... three seniors and a bunch of young guys. They do have some experience with Babe Ruth and travel ball."

Darden, the CCC player-of-the-year, looked uncomfortable and left a few pitches up in the strike zone during his first three innings on the mound. The third-seeded Crusaders (10-10) plated two first-inning runs, but stranded runners on base the next two innings.

The Eagles finally scratched in the third.

Darden singled and Bryce Norman walked. The duo advanced into scoring position on a double steal and each raced home on a wild pitch by Grace left-hander Brent Godfrey. Senior shortstop Ryan Cooke, who walked, scampered home on Chandler Gentry's perfectly-executed squeeze bunt.

Ominous clouds grew darker, bright lightning illuminated the sky and the umpires cleared the baseball complex. The suspension caused concern among the coaches and players who were eager to finish the contest.

"It all depends on your attitude towards it," Darden said of the delay. "You can look at it as a bad thing or you can look at it as a momentum start. Everybody on our team looked at it as another momentum start."

And what a restart it was.

With Gentry aboard, Wayne Christian's next four batters -- Austin Howell, Jake Riffle, Trey Hinton and Hunter Burt -- each reached safely on infield errors. Darden deposited a 1-1 offering from reliever Quinton Payne over the center-field fence.

It was Darden's third homer of the season.

"I was actually looking curveball and was in the front of the box," smiled Darden, who earned the tournament MVP award. "When he came through his wind-up, his elbow didn't drop so I straightened up and blasted it."

The grand slam capped an 11-run outburst that all but deflated the Crusaders' hopes of clinching their first-ever CCC tournament crown. Grace Christian scratched out four runs (one earned) on six hits against Darden.

Norman and Chandler Harrell combined for two innings of scoreless relief. Norman struck out the side after Darden issued a walk to Godfrey in the fifth. Harrell recorded three straight outs after issuing a lead-off walk in the sixth.

Wayne Christian pounded out 15 hits against three Grace Christian hurlers. Darden finished 3-for-5. Norman, Gentry and Howell contributed two hits apiece. Norman invoked the mercy rule with a bases-loaded, RBI single in the sixth and kept the streak intact.

"I've been getting a lot of grief from past seniors about not breaking the streak, it's crazy," said first baseman Chandler Harrell. "It's a real young team this year, everybody is gelling at their positions."