Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thomas & Farris can finally celebrate

The third Wilson City Little League season is in the books with Thomas & Farris finally taking the top prize with a 6-5 defeat of defending champion Italian Pizza and Subs on Monday night in Heritage Bank Stadium.

This was the first chance I had to sit in the stands and watch a game since I was too busy during the grand opening on May 30 to actually sit and watch. What a gorgeous summer evening it was, too. A purplish hue colored the sky at sunset, tinging the backdrop of green fields surrounding Gillette Baseball Complex on London Church Road.

The play of the Little Leaguers was impressive as well. Even though there were seven errors in the Majors Division championship (but only three in the Triple-A Minors final!), the play of these 9-to-12-year-olds was noteworthy. I was especially struck by the grittiness of Thomas & Farris closer Chase Long who left his starting spot behind home plate to take the mound with the bases full and nobody out with a one-run lead in the sixth inning.

After striking out one batter, Long fired a wild pitch and tagged out the runner trying to score from third base despite taking a cleat to the stomach in the process which knocked the wind out of him. After a couple of warm-up tosses, Long retired the last batter on chopper to third baseman Austin Boswell.

Long told me after the game he watched LSU beat Texas in the College World Series and wanted to know what it was like celebrating on the mound after the final out — which he did. He also said he didn't want to feel like those Texas fans did watching LSU whoop it up.

Well, now Long and his Thomas & Farris teammates finally know what it's like to celebrate a title after losing to Farris & Farris in the WCLL's first championship game and winning the regular-season crown but not making the final last summer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Atkinson to sign with Barton

There will be another Atkinson playing for the Barton Bulldogs.

I spoke with recent Fike High School graduate Jeremy Atkinson on Friday afternoon and he confirmed that he would continue his basketball career with Barton. The paperwork has yet to be finalized but that should happen in the next week.

I know Jeremy hoped to play NCAA Division I basketball but the truth is that at 6-foot-4 with post skills, he is a "tweener." I have no doubt he can play at the Div. I level but I think that he will find four years playing at Barton more satisfying than possibly spending half that time on the bench at a major university.

I don't know if he will be able to step in and dominate at the Div. II level as he did in high school but I imagine that Bulldogs head coach Ron Lievense will find a spot for him in the rotation.

The Bulldogs won their only NCAA championship in 2007 with Anthony Atkinson, Jeremy's second (or third or fourth) cousin at the helm. I would imagine that Barton opponents will have an uneasy feeling seeing that name across the back of a Bulldogs jersey for another four years. Not to compare Jeremy to Anthony, whose game is completely different, but I have high hopes that with the team Lievense has coming back and the recruiting class he has coming in, Barton will be poised to make another championship run.

A loss closer to home

The deaths of celebrities Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett made headlines Thursday but a far more personal loss occupied my mind all day.

My uncle, Edwin Durham, passed away at Wilson Medical Center after a grueling fight with cancer. Uncle Ed, or "Eben" as my late grandmother always called him, probably had as much to do with my love of sports as anyone I know. He married twice but never had any kids of his own and his five nieces and nephews all considered him as a second dad.

A character by nature, Uncle Ed was the consummate fun uncle, always ready with a joke or "joshing" someone about something. His light-hearted demeanor masked a stubborn streak that he always said had to do with having "Durham in him."

My weekly Sunday morning visits with my son Bennett to see Uncle Ed at the farm house he maintained following my grandfather's death 12 years ago will be missed greatly. So will the stories he would tell about playing ball

Uncle Ed played (catcher, mostly) for the Gardners baseball team in the old semi-professional Bright Belt League. He played against or with such players as Red Gay, Earl Boykin, Rabbit Fulghum and the Griffin brothers. In those days (the 1940s and '50s), most of those players spent their day working hard on a tobacco farm before going out to play ball in the evenings. Having toiled briefly in the tobacco fields in the mechanized 1980s, I can only imagine what it was like to spend the day in a field with a mule pulling the trailer, taking out a barn of tobacco at dawn and hanging another two or three in the brutal summer heat and not having the luxury of air-conditioning when you got home.

A Korean War veteran, Uncle Ed was part of that generation who worked hard and did the best they could at what they did. Our conversations usually centered around sports. He still kept up with the local sports scene, inquiring in his final days about the new Little League baseball complex that just opened.

Death is never easy to handle, even though I've dealt with it far more frequently than I would have imagined I would at my age. I knew Uncle Ed didn't have much time as it was apparent cancer was eating away at him despite his unwillingness to acknowledge it. He always said, "When it's your time, it's your time."

So true and now I'm just left with memories and an appreciation for another person who meant a great deal to me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A look ahead at football season

The 2009 high school football schedules have been posted online for Hunt, Fike, Beddingfield, among other teams.

The Warriors will open at former 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference rival Eastern Wayne on Aug. 21 and then host Fike the following week. A couple of interesting non-conference battles for Hunt are Sept. 3 at 4-A Holly Springs and Sept. 11 at home against SouthWest Edgecombe.

The Golden Demons, under new head coach Kim Brown, open at D.H. Conley on Aug. 21, visit Hunt the next week and host Beddingfield on Sept. 11. Fike's non-conference schedule is pretty much the same except for South Johnston which visits Bedgood Stadium on Oct. 2.

Both teams begin 3-A Big East Conference play on Oct. 9 with Hunt visiting Northern Nash and the Demons traveling to Southern Nash. After four years of midseason battles, Hunt and Fike will meet in their regular-season finale at Fike on Nov. 6.

The Bruins' non-conference schedule now includes former ECC rivals Southern Wayne (Aug. 28) and Hunt (Sept. 18) as well as Fike and Southern Nash. Beddingfield begins play in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference at home against Greene Central on Sept. 25. The Bruins finish the regular season at Tarboro on Nov. 6.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Richardson playing in NBA Top 100 Camp

Brian Richardson, a rising senior at Greenfield School, is in Charlottesville, Va., this week to participate in the prestigious NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp.

The camp, observing its 12th summer at the University of Virginia, counts many NBA stars among its alumni, including Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles and Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.

All the top players in the class of 2010, including Kinston's Reggie Bullock; Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa; Will Barton of Baltimore and Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In short, this puts Richardson among the cream of the nation's crop in the 2010 recruiting class.

Greenfield head coach Rob Salter told me Richardson is being heavily pursued by Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama and Xavier, among others.

With fellow rising senior Jeremy Jeffers garnering attention from the likes of South Carolina, Auburn, Virginia Commonwealth as well as many Ivy League schools (due to his outstanding grades), the Knights should have plenty of attention this winter. Greenfield will participate in the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational at Raleigh Broughton High School.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cox hired as Rocky Mount baseball coach

My good friend Charles Alston tells me today that Rocky Mount High School has hired a new baseball coach to replace Pat Smith, who is retiring.

The Gryphons new skipper will be Kent Cox, who was Smith's assistant coach in 2008 when Rocky Mount won the state 3-A championship. Cox has been the Rocky Mount junior varsity baseball coach for 10 years and has been an assistant J.V. football coach there for seven years.

A native of Tarboro (his father Ken was the athletic director at Tarboro High), Cox was the coach of the 2004 Nash County 14-U team that finished third in the Babe Ruth World Series in Fleming Stadium that year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Leggett earning a pro check

Thanks to my former colleague and frequent blog reader Nick Livingston, I can happily report that former Barton College star Brian Leggett finished his first season for the Wilmington Sea Dawgs of the Premier Basketball League.

In 24 games, Leggett averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 26.3 minutes per game. He helped the Sea Dawgs to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Division and a first-round playoff win against the Vermont Frost Heaves (I kid you not, that is their name).

The PBL is a 13-team league mainly in the northeastern and north central United States and Canada. But besides Wilmington, there is a team in Augusta, Ga., along with ones in Manchester, N.H., Battle Creek, Mich. and Montreal among other places. I can't say I recognize any of the other names of players in the league but it's a pro gig and I'm happy for Leggett, one of my favorite Barton players.

East-West rosters a little disappointing outside of football

The North Carolina Coaches Association e-mailed me the boys and girls basketball rosters for the East-West All-Star Games over the weekend.

That means the only roster I've yet to see is girls soccer for the mid-summer extravaganza to be played in Greensboro in the third week of July.

The Wilson Times readership area is well-represented in football with SouthWest Edgecombe's Raymond Cobb as the East head coach of a staff that includes Southern Nash's Brian Foster and Greene Central's Kenneth Grantham. Furthermore, there are five area players on the East roster — Fike's Rashad Parker, Southern Nash's T.J. Batchelor, SouthWest Edgecombe's Marquis Hines, Greene Central's DaRon Tripp and Beddingfield's Jumal Rolle.

That's a generous, but well-deserved, representation for our area for the football game, scheduled July 22 in Grimsley High School's Jamieson Stadium. However, I'm a little disappointed that no players from this area made the basketball or soccer teams.

As I stated, the girls soccer roster hasn't been released (but it should come out this week), but I've been told that Fike senior Tramicka James, a two-time all-state selection, wasn't on it. Neither was Golden Demons star Jeremy Atkinson a member of the boys basketball team nor was Beddingfield standout Shaniqua Clay on the girls basketball team.

I don't want to criticize the East coaches in those sports because I'm sure their job is tough, trying to assemble a roster from all the senior players in the eastern part of the state. Still, I think those three should have merited some consideration, which for all I know, they did.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Goodwin, Gourley go on 2nd day of MLB draft

Finally, in the 17th round of the second day of the MLB draft Wednesday afternoon, Rocky Mount High School senior Brian Goodwin was taken by the Chicago White Sox with the 523rd overall pick.

Another player from nearby, Walker Gourley of Eastern Wayne High School, went in the 13th round to Pittsburgh with the 385th overall pick.

Gourley has signed with East Carolina while Goodwin inked with North Carolina. We'll see if the professional baseball will lure them away.

MLB draft has a Carolina flavor in early rounds

The 2009 Major League Baseball draft is underway and there have been a few players taken with somewhat local connections.

For starters, North Carolina had three players drafted in the first three rounds, including junior pitcher Alex White who went to Cleveland in the 15th pick of the first round. White is a D.H. Conley graduate and the guy who helped beat Charles B. Aycock and current UNC teammate Garrett Davis in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs in 2006.

White was drafted in the 14th round out of Conley but chose to go to UNC where he has helped the Tar Heels to three College World Series appearances.

His Carolina teammate, center fielder Dustin Ackley, was taken second overall by Seattle, which drafted UNC second baseman Kyle Seager in the third round (82nd overall). Ackley, UNC's first three-time All-American, is the highest Carolina player drafted since Paul Shuey was taken No. 2 in 1992.

Ackley and White are UNC's 10th and 11th first-round picks.

Another player with UNC connections is Georgia high schooler Donavan Tate, who was taken third by San Diego. Tate has signed a football scholarship with Carolina but I'm thinking he'll never set foot on campus. Then again, his dad, Lars Tate, was a University of Georgia star in the 1980s so football is big in that family.

The only other player with North Carolina connections drafted in the first three (and first two compensation rounds) is High Point Wesleyan Christian Academy's William Myers, who went to Kansas City in round 3 with the 91st overall pick.

The one player's name I haven't seen yet is Rocky Mount High School's Brian Goodwin, who was thought to be an early round pick. NorthCarolinaiHigh.com reports Goodwin is playing this summer for a team in Amelia, Ohio. He has signed to play baseball at UNC but obviously is doubtful to join the Heels if he goes high enough.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thompson also hit dual scoring milestones at Fike

I'd like to point out that I was (channeling Arthur Fonzarelli) wr---, wr---, wrong in a story I wrote this week, sort of.

I wrote that Fike senior Tramicka James is believed to be the first female at the school to score 1,000 points in basketball and 100 goals in soccer. And I guess I was right because I believed that Tramicka was but I was wrong to have forgotten, too quickly as it turns out, that one of her former teammates had pulled off the feat.

Barksdale Thompson, who graduated in 2007, hit those milestones first. I don't have Barksdale's career totals but I know that she was easily past both benchmarks.

Like James, Thompson was a two-time all-state selection by the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association. Two of Fike's other three 100-career goal scorers — Sarah Winslow and Elizabeth Spencer — were also two-time all-state picks while Ginny Farris earned that distinction once.

I was reminded of this by one staff member with a longer and better memory than me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Post 13 has potential

I only caught a few innings since I was the self-appointed photog for the camera-challenged Senior Staff Writer but it was good to see Wilson American Legion Post 13 finally win a baseball game.

By the time I arrived at Fleming Stadium on Wednesday evening, Post 13 was routing Pitt County Post 160 7-0 in the second inning. Wilson ended up winning 11-2 as it banged out 14 hits in winning for the first time in five games.

The American Legion season is early. Wilson still hasn't played an (deep breath) Area One Eastern Division North Conference game (exhale) yet but nobody wants to be 0-5. Especially a team with this much talent.

Head coach Rusty Dail has five college players on the roster, including starting pitchers Justin Nygard and Bentley Massey. Throw in Alex Howard (an All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association second-team pick as a freshman at St. Augustine's this spring), Chris "Petey" Lamm and Zac Crumpler and that's some pretty good experience along with the high school players on the squad.

In my five years of observing Post 13, I have to say this lineup and pitching staff has the most potential — at least at this stage of the season. Of course, Dail has had some good teams over the past few seasons, including the 2006 Eastern Division regular-season champion and the 2003 North Conference winner. Most of Dail's current players were members of the first Post 13 junior team to reach the state tournament in 2006, so success is expected of this group.

It's hard to say which team is the one to beat in the Eastern Division since no one really knows who is playing for whom at this time of year. But Pitt County Post 39 is a perennial favorite and certainly Wayne County Post 11, state tournament qualifiers the past two summers, is always lethal. You can't overlook Rocky Mount Post 58 which should benefit from the contributions of the Rocky Mount High School players (although you can bet Brian Goodwin will be wearing a minor league uniform this summer).

But I think Wilson will be right in the thick of things by the end of the month. And if I'm right, maybe I'll get a set of keys to Fleming so I won't have to worry about getting locked in again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Holt steps down as Rocky Mount football coach

Charles Alston of North Carolina iHigh.com reports Tuesday evening that Rocky Mount football head coach B.W. Holt is resigning after six seasons at the school.

Holt has led the Gryphons to four conference championships and to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A East finals twice. He went 71-12 at RMHS and is one of just three active coaches in the state with more than 300 wins.

Wow! Looks like Fike isn't the only 3-A NEW 6 Conference program with upheaval in its coaching ranks. Pat Smith, who directed Rocky Mount to the 2008 state 3-A baseball crown, announced his retirement last week.

Fike, of course, will have a new football coach and boys basketball coach next year and is rumored to have a new athletic director and girls basketball coach with John Gay's impending departure.

That means there will be at least three new coaches next season in the NEW 6 — which will become the 3-A Big East Conference — Fike's Kim Brown, Northern Nash's Mickey Crouch and whoever takes Holt's place.

I will miss Coach Holt, even though I didn't have the privilege of dealing with him very often. He is a colorful character, quick with a quip and he certainly elevated the level of play in this area. Best of luck to him and his wife, Barbara.