Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gryphons look good for No. 5

The season ended again in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A baseball playoffs for Fike.

This time, it was NEW 6 Conference archrival Rocky Mount that sent the Golden Demons home. A year ago, Charles B. Aycock got past Fike on the way to the 3-A state title.

My money, if I had any, would be on Fike being ousted by another state champion.

I felt that going into Wednesday night's East Regional semifinal at Fike was the best matchup of remaining teams. Granted, I do plead a certain amount of ignorance about the West Regional semifinalists. But recent history has taught me the East might have the better baseball teams in the NCHSAA.

While I was thinking Fike had a championship-caliber team, I knew that Rocky Mount does for five reasons — pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching.

You see, as the NCHSAA playoffs turn into best-of-3 series at the regional and state championships, pitching depth becomes the single biggest factor in a team's success, in my humble opinion.

There's no doubt a team can ride a couple of hot bats and obscure mediocre pitching through the single-elimination part of the playoffs. But in order to win four games in five or six days (as is the case with the regional semifinals and finals) and then play a best-of-3 in two days in the state finals, you'd better have more than one good pitcher.

Fike had two pretty good pitchers in senior Bentley Massey and sophomore William Prince. I have to believe that if Demons head coach Will Flowers called on them, either Tripp Sauls, Matthew Pittman, Jacob Davis or Mitchell Wheeler could have given a credible effort on the mound.

But that's a moot point now.

It's the Gryphons who are headed to Winterville on Friday night to play D.H. Conley, a 1-0 victor against South Central on Wednesday night.

And Rocky Mount has four solid arms with more than 30 innings pitched this season plus junior Nick Hahula who emerged at midseason as a hard-throwing option.

Gryphons head coach Pat Smith can use Hahula, Benton Moss, Chris Berry or Dillon Cockrell in the first two games and still have ace Jim Leggett, Wednesday night's winner, for some innings Saturday.

If Rocky Mount makes it to the 3-A finals, its mound quintet will have seven days of rest.

That's why I'm taking the Gryphons to win the fifth state title in school history.

By the way, the starting shortstop on Rocky Mount's 1973 4-A state champion was none other than Phil Ford, who opted to play basketball in college.

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