Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thanks for the honors

I'm not normally one to toot my horn but here's a couple of items I thought I'd share with you.

On Sunday, I was honored by the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association as its 2009 Media Person of the Year. The award was presented to me by Brent Walston as part of the all-state ceremony at East Chapel Hill High School. As Brent (the boys soccer coach and athletic director at North Johnston) said, it was fitting that I got the award today because it was the same day Mike Petty was honored for his work with The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship Soccer Showcase.

Petty, who was the guest speaker (and I'll have more on that this week), was surprised when he was given the special award The Brittany, deemed "The Best Soccer Event in North Carolina." Petty, now living in Fayetteville, is a member of the original organizing committee for The Brittany and was Brittany's coach at Hunt.

For my part, I was nominated for coverage of The Brittany as well as the six-part series I did last summer, Soccer in Wilson.

I didn't issue any public thank-you's today but I would like to point out that, as someone who never played a minute of organized soccer outside a P.E. class in high school, whatever I know about the sport comes from the coaches with whom I have worked. That means Brent Walston, Ben Forbes, Toni Varacchi, Gary Hall, Glenn Griffin, Stacey Tant, Matt Akins, Michael Michalakis, Maitland Barnes, Rhine Sharp, Trent Dorough, Luke Poore, Scott Wofford, Drew Nick, Ike Onyeador and many more who have helped me understand the nuances of a sport I'm still learning.

In January, the N.C. Youth Soccer Association presented its 2009 Media Award to the Wilson Times for our coverage of the U.S. Youth Soccer Region III championships last June.

Thanks to both the NCSCA and the NCYSA for recognizing the work we've done. But as Forbes pointed out to me Sunday, I just raised the bar on myself.

That's OK, Coach. I brought my notepad and a camera to the ceremony Sunday and I've got a few stories coming up!

Pat Smith retires as Rocky Mount baseball coach

My friends in Rocky Mount, Charles Alston and Bernie Capps, let me know this week that Rocky Mount High School baseball coach Pat Smith is retiring.

Smith led the Gryphons to the 2008 N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A championship. This is his seventh year at Rocky Mount.

Probably not a bad time for Smith to leave considering this was Brian Goodwin's senior season. Goodwin was just named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year and is likely to be drafted fairly high in Major League Baseball's June draft.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

White Oak's 4th straight title dredges up old memories

The N.C. High School Athletic Association crowned four champions in girls soccer Saturday.

Raleigh Leesville Road got past Charlotte Ardrey Kell in a shootout following a scoreless match in the 4-A title game.

In the 1-A final, Polk County made it past Raleigh Charter when Anna Trakas scored the only goal of the match in the last three minutes.

Swansboro won its second 2-A crown in four years when Lindsay Redfearn put in a golden goal in the first five-minute sudden-death overtime against Forbush, which has lost two straight years in the finals. Both teams played in The Brittany V in March.

Finally, seniors Stephanie Rose, a forward, and goalkeeper Rea Segoviano helped Jacksonville White Oak down Kings Mountain 5-0. The Vikings finished 22-0 and won their fourth straight 3-A championship.

Followers of Fike's girls soccer teams might remember those two names. Four years ago, Rose had two goals in White Oak's 3-2 defeat of Fike in the third round of the state playoffs. Segoviano replaced senior Ashley Bailey in goal and shut out the Golden Demons in the second half, making several great saves among the seven she totaled.

That Fike team featured Sarah Winslow, Barksdale Thompson, Erin Menzel, Dillon Sauls and Sarah Sallenger, among others. The Demons led twice at White Oak that night four years ago and had several chances to tie the game in the second half. Instead the Vikings escaped and went on to win four straight state crowns.

It's been a great run for head coach Buddy Carroll and the Vikings but I can't help but think how close Fike was that warm May night in Jacksonville four years ago. Maybe if Winslow had gotten to the ball a split-second before Bailey (who was injured but made the save). Maybe if the game was in Wilson, on Fike's field and not the White Oak football field, the Demons would have fared better.

But four years later, White Oak has built a dynasty and Fike is still searching for that elusive state title, or even a state championship appearance. I've got to believe that some day the Demons will break through and maybe, just maybe, White Oak will be the victim. After losing in the playoffs for five straight years to White Oak, the Demons deserve some karma.

Ready for another trip to Walnut Creek?

Two more teams in The Wilson Times readership area are going to play for a shot at a state championship as softball teams from Charles B. Aycock and North Johnston advanced to the state final four in their respective classifications Friday night.

Aycock will make its fifth trip to Walnut Creek Softball Complex this decade for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A final four while North Johnston returns to the 1-A final four for the first time since 2005. Both teams went that year and both came pretty close to winning it all but came home empty-handed.

I have made two trips to Walnut Creek and here's a few things I can tell you.

1) Bring water and sunscreen. Both of my previous jaunts there have coincided with the arrival of the hot, muggy summer weather. We got a little taste of it the past few days so I expect next weekend to be fierce.

2) It's almost essential for teams to win their first game in the double-elimination format. It's nearly as important for them to win their first two games in order to avoid pitching issues.

3) While many teams have one star pitcher that gets them to Walnut Creek, usually the teams who win it all have pitching depth. If they don't, they'd better win three straight games spaced over the better part of two days.

4) Along with the heat and humidity, expect rain delays. And not just rain but severe thunderstorms that sends everyone scurrying since there aren't many places to take shelter.

5) Expect several 1-0, 15-inning (or more) games. There aren't many blowouts in the final four and runs come at a premium.

But of all the state championships I've been to, I have to rate the softball final four as one of the best. You can mosey around Walnut Creek and catch a glimpse of all top 16 teams left in the state. It's truly a festival and the only one that has all the state semifinalists in one spot.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gay to step down as Fike AD, girls basketball coach

John Gay reportedly will not return as Fike athletic director or varsity girls basketball coach next year.

Circumstances are still unclear but I am told that Gay could stay at Fike as a teacher or he may retire. The end of this school year will be his 30th as a teacher and a coach.

Gay took over as Fike AD around the beginning of 1998 and became the second Fike girls basketball coach since merger when he succeeded the late Eddie Summerlin in March, 1999. Gay, a Saratoga native, coached at North Edgecombe, East Burke and Kinston before coming to Fike in the 1993-94 school year.

I, for one, will be sorry to see Gay leave Fike. He has always been one of the most thoroughly prepared and helpful ADs around, which makes life much easier for the perpetually under-prepared sports editor.

His departure would be another in a tumultuous spring at Fike. Longtime football coach Richie Pridgen retired in January and was replaced by assistant coach Kim Brown while George Drawhorn is stepping aside after 19 seasons as boys basketball coach and former assistant Brent Secrest is taking over. Both Pridgen and Drawhorn held the title of longest-tenured coach in their respective sport in Fike history and Gay was the unbroken chain from the legendary Summerlin.

I'm wondering if the next bit of news from Fike is that baseball coach Will Flowers will call it a career. Hopefully not, even though Flowers might just have the longest tenure of anyone in Fike history not named Jim Boykin Jr. who clearly drinks daily from the fountain of youth.

Stay tuned for more details on Gay's departure and possible successors.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CBA softball on the verge of returning to Walnut Creek

After back-to-back second-round exits from the state 3-A playoffs the past two years, the Charles B. Aycock softball is back within earshot of a trip to Walnut Creek Softball Complex.

The Raleigh venue is the site of the N.C. High School Athletic Association softball final four, which CBA reached four times in five years from 2002 to 2006 under former head coach David West. Now under the direction of Brad Matthews, in his second season, the Golden Falcons can book passage to Walnut Creek by beating D.H. Conley on Friday night in Pikeville.

But that's no easy task as the Vikings have won 23 of 24 games, including a 1-0 victory against CBA in early March in Winterville. Aycock went on to win 20 straight games and looked forward to the non-conference rematch late in the season but it was rained out. CBA (24-2), the Eastern Carolina Conference queen, was ranked fifth in the N.C. Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association final 3-A poll while Conley retained its top spot.

The Falcons haven't had an easy path to Friday's East Regional semifinals date with the Vikings. In the second round, CBA had to go through defending state champion South Central before edging past Washington 1-0 in Tuesday night's third-round battle. Those two teams were the ones which ended Aycock's seasons the past two years.

I covered CBA's playoff runs in 2005 and 2006, all the way to Raleigh but missed out on both their playoff exits the past two years. Standing beside the home dugout Tuesday night, it seemed only natural to be at a late-May postseason game at Aycock. It was my first look at the Falcons this year and while some of the names seemed familiar, it was only through family connections.

Starting pitcher Cynthia Burroughs is the younger sister of former CBA standout Kandace Burroughs while freshman third baseman Rachel Jordan is the sibling of former CBA starting pitcher Emily Jordan. Then there's freshman left fielder Connor Davis, whose dad, Charles, is the CBA athletic director and head baseball coach.

Aycock has forged an eastern 3-A dynasty over the past decade or more and it's good to see a new group of players looking to revive that tradition after a short break.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Inaugural Coach D Classic a hit

A new tradition was started at Fike on Thursday evening in the form of the Coach D Classic, an exhibition basketball tournament honoring outgoing Fike boys basketball coach George Drawhorn.

Drawhorn is retiring in a few weeks after 19 years as the Golden Demons head coach, the longest tenure of any of the school's boys basketball coaches. For that matter, 19 years is probably the longest anyone has been the coach of one sport at any Wilson County high school since the 1978-79 merger. So this is a great way to honor an outstanding coach and teacher who has impacted so many lives here in Wilson.

The proceeds of the Coach D Classic, I am told by Charles Howard, will go towards establishing a scholarship fund in Coach Drawhorn's name. The event was dreamed up by Christopher Barnes, a marketing teacher at Fike. The tournament was a round-robin with teams from Wilson's three high schools participating and the crowd support, Charles said, was "fantastic."

Fike beat Hunt in the first game but the Warriors took out their frustrations on Beddingfield in the second game. Finally, the Bruins got revenge by defeating Fike in the final game. Beddingfield was awarded the championship by virtue of the highest point total and assistant principal Marquis Spell was named Classic MVP.

But wasn't Spell a former multi-sport star at Hunt, leading the 1989 Warriors to the state 4-A baseball championship series (which they almost won)? And Howard was a star on the '84 Fike state championship basketball team? Hmmmm....

Anyway, here's a shot of the victorious team and congratulations to the Bruins for winning not only the inaugural Coach D Classic but also claiming the unofficial old school Wilson County championship!

Front row: Maitland Barnes, Jeremy Howard and Tyrone Johnson. Back row: John Walston, Glenn Reaves, Marquis Spell, Phillip Johnson and Charles Howard

Is it Fike or Ragsdale?

The team to beat, it seems, the past two years in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A baseball playoffs was Fike.

After all, the Golden Demons lost to Charles B. Aycock in the Eastern semifinals in 2007 on the Golden Falcons' way to the state title. Then last season, Fike was defeated by eventual state champion Rocky Mount in the Eastern semis.

So it stands to reason that West Brunswick should be celebrating a state title in a week or so since the Trojans eliminated Fike in the third round Friday night.

Well, maybe not.

Our good friend and high school sports guru Charles Alston points out that for the past three years at team which has lost to Jamestown Ragsdale has gone on to win the state title. In addition to Rocky Mount last year and CBA in 2007, D.H. Conley fell to Ragsdale in 2006, the same year current UNC star Alex White lead the Vikings to the state championship.

That puts Northern Nash in the limelight as the Knights lost to Ragsdale early in the season.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Firebirds defy the odds

Southern Nash hits the court today for the second straight year at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A boys tennis championship.

The Firebirds didn't fare well in their last trip to the state finals at Burlington Tennis Center, losing 6-0 to Charlotte Catholic. Southern Nash won't have to worry about Charlotte Catholic today as the Cougars were toppled by Lake Norman in the West Regional final Thursday.

But Lake Norman has to be the odds-on favorite to win it all. After all, only one team east of Raleigh has won the 3-A title since the classifications were split up in 1986 and that was Eastern Wayne in 2003. The only other team east of Raleigh to win a boys state title since 1963 was Hunt when freshman Jim Rogerson led the Warriors to the school's first state championship. The NCHSAA's record book is spotty prior to 1963 but it appears Goldsboro and Rocky Mount may have won some state titles in the 1950s.

Needless to say, eastern N.C. is not where the best tennis players are found and certainly not in the 3-A ranks. But does that mean the Firebirds don't have a chance today? I didn't think they had a chance to even get this far considering they lost 5 of their starting 6 singles players from last year's team. The 2008 Firebirds had several players like Michael Barnes and Ethan Page who had been starting since their sophomore seasons.

Last May, it seemed Southern Nash's unbeaten run to the East crown was the culmination of many years of excellence under the watchful eye of head coach Brad Joyner. I figured Joyner would have another solid team this year but didn't think he and the Firebirds could pull off another unbeaten run to the state championship.

Certainly, he's been helped by the addition of German exchange student Julian Paulsen at No. 1 singles but the play of guys like Jordan Hagler, Isaac Arnold, Adam Glover and the Matthews brothers, Will and Clay, has been spectacular. For a rural school that draws students from an area larger than Wilson County, Southern Nash has established itself as a true state power in boys tennis.

So, although the Firebirds will take the court today as decided underdogs, who's to say they can't pull off the upset? But if they can't, I wouldn't bet against them going to Burlington again next May.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The boys (of summer) are back (almost)

It's almost time for the sights and sounds of summer in Wilson and that means the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd and the booming voice of public-address announcer Alton Britt.

If you live less than a mile from Fleming Stadium, as I do, you can hear Alton's voice carrying through the thick, summer air as he announces the next batter for the Wilson Tobs.

That's right, the Tobs season is almost here. They begin next Wednesday on the road at Coastal Plain League rival Fayetteville then return home the next night for their Fleming Stadium opener against the Asheboro Copperheads.

Tobs manager Jeff Steele, however, might not be there by the first game. In real life, Steele is the pitching coach at Lubbock Christian University, which is playing in the NAIA World Series that runs from Friday to May 29.

But before the Tobs get going, the Wilson American Legion Post 13 team starts its season Monday night against Clayton Post 71 at Smithfield-Selma High School. Post 13 will play its home opener Friday, May 29, against Raleigh Post 1 in Fleming.

The original opener for Post 13 was to have been Friday in Fleming against Pitt County Post 39 but the high school playoffs have limited each team's ability to field a full roster.

Rusty Dail is back as Post 13's head coach while Parker Davis and Daniel Johnson return as assistant coaches.

Also pushing back their opener is the Post 13 junior team, which canceled two dates this week and will now launch its season Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Washington on the Fike High School diamond.

The junior Legion team has a new coaching staff as Jay Wheeler stepped down and former Greenfield School coach Robert Stokely stepped up. Stokely, now in private business, will have Jay Lamm helping him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bang! Bang! He's out!

Fike junior right-hander William Prince came pretty close to pitching a no-hitter in the Golden Demons' 6-0 win at Charles B. Aycock in the first round of the state 3-A baseball playoffs Friday night.

How close? Well, Prince allowed one hit on a controversial play at first base on the Golden Falcons diamond.

From these photographs below taken by Wilson Times senior staff writer Tom Ham, CBA's Tyler Ruffin appears to be out at first base as Fike's Tripp Sauls gets the throw before Ruffin's left foot hits the bag.

But hey, umpires are human, too, and this apparently blown call didn't really affect the outcome of the game. And the photographs suggest the play was extremely close.

I just want to give Ham a little credit for his often under-appreciated ability with the camera. And I'm happy to say this picture was taken without the sticky residue of Diet Mountain Dew on the lens!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Each school should have an athletic hall of fame

SouthWest Edgecombe held its fourth induction for the school's athletic hall of fame Monday night and the main honoree was, fittingly, Yancey Thigpen.

For those who don't remember, Thigpen was a Cougar football standout from 1984 to 1986 before going on to Winston-Salem State University and then a stellar NFL career. A two-time Pro Bowler with the PIttsburgh Steelers, Thigpen ended his career with the Tennessee Titans. He now lives in Charlotte.

He was the first male athlete to be enshrined by SouthWest which is taking it slowly in its choice of inductees. There will be plenty more candidates from which to choose in future installations.

But the whole hall-of-fame thing got me to thinking, yet again, that it's a shame Hunt or Beddingfield hasn't put together a hall of fame yet. Fike, which opened its doors in the fall of 1958, started its hall of fame in 2000 with 12 inductees. Jim Boykin Jr. has been the driving force since its inception and can be counted on to put together a credible class every 2 or 3 years.

Someone at Hunt or Beddingfield needs to step up. Both schools are now in their 31st year and each has produced numerous candidates. I could put together the initial classes for each school.

Let's say we start with five honorees to open each school's mythical hall of fame. Let's make it unavailable to athletes who have graduated in the last five years or coaches or administrators still on staff.

For Hunt, I'd go with Bill Williamson, Octavus Barnes, Jennifer Laughridge, William Hesmer and Willie Harris.

At Beddingfield, let's start with William Lewis, Tommy Hawkins, Dennis Barron, Corey Thomas and Latonya Joyner.

Hey, this is fun. Let's throw Greenfield into the mix. How about Joe Warenda, Rick Helms, Badie Clark, Catherine Thomas and Anthony Atkinson?

If I'm off base on some of those or have forgotten anyone, please let me know.

The thing about organizing a hall of fame for a high school is that someone really has to bear the mantle of responsibility and then find someone else to pass it on. Boykin has been that person at Fike and at SouthWest, I suspect Sandra Langley has done quite a bit of work but she probably has more help than Boykin requires at Fike.

So maybe we'll see such institutions crop up at Beddingfield, Hunt, Greenfield or Wilson Christian in the near future. I hope so.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cyclones reign again

Congratulations to Community Christian which reigns for the second straight year as the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A girls soccer champion.

The Lady Cyclones were joined by 2-A winner Calvary Baptist and 3-A queen Charlotte Latin, which is coached by former Greenfield head coach Lee Horton, in Saturday's finals at Gillette Athletic Complex.

All three champions share the experience of having played in The Brittany V at Gillette in March. In fact, eight of the 12 teams that converged on Gillette this weekend for the NCISAA semifinals had played in The Brittany this spring.

Community Christian is coached by Rhine Sharp, assisted by Lawson Thompson and David Dorsey. Sharp should be back for a couple more years with youngest daughter Meredith just a sophomore this season. Older daughter Caroline was the Cyclones' only senior.

I don't see why Rhine wouldn't want to come back, even though he is now 1 for 2 in eluding the postgame bucket of Gatorade over the head. Last year, he showed nimble footwork in escaping an icy drenching.

But this year, he wasn't so lucky as we see from the photos below, taken by Michael Lindsay of the Wilson Times. I hope his cell phone made out all right!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Greenfield-CCS final was not to be

Greenfield head coach Ben Forbes discusses strategy with Blake Lantz during Friday's NCISAA 1-A semifinals match against Kerr-Vance at Gillette Athletic Complex.

While my objectivity was in place during Friday's N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A girls soccer semifinals match Friday at Gillette Athletic Complex, I have to admit that I was hoping Greenfield would defeat Kerr-Vance Academy.

A Knights win would have set up an all-Wilson final against defending champion Community Christian. It would have made for an army of story lines but it didn't happen because Kerr-Vance scored the winning goal with about 12 seconds left in the second overtime. It was, amazingly, KVA's third 1-0 defeat of Greenfield this season and all three times, the decisive goal came late in the match.

But I was impressed with Greenfield, which has 10 of its 19 players in 10th grade or lower. Many of the Knights' top players are still in middle school. Even more impressive was the manner in which veteran Greenfield coach Ben Forbes and his staff, Stephen Taylor and Ray Warenda, handled these young ladies.

I've been on the Greenfield boys soccer team sidelines many times and let's just say that Forbes has a completely different tack handling the lads compared to the lassies. The sights and sounds of a fall soccer match at Greenfield wouldn't be complete without Forbes, Taylor or Warenda pointing out — in great volume at times — the mistakes of their troops.

But Friday night, in a state semifinal match, the three men were gently parceling out the kind of advice you'd expect to hear in preseason training camp. Obviously, it takes a seasoned hand to understand the nuances of coaching girls and boys in the same sport.

But they've been successful in both the spring and the fall. While the girls fell short of matching the boys' state title last fall, Greenfield certainly has found its way back to being a state contender again in the spring. With young players like Walker Finklea, Cameron Johnson, Kenan Barnes, Sarah Bizzell, Baker Bedgood, Blake Lantz and Sawyer Parrish returning next season, Greenfield should be one of the favorites to win it all.

But until then, let's see if Rhine Sharp and his CCS Cyclones can do it again. Community Christian won its first state title last spring in breathtaking fashion, going to overtime or a shootout in all its postseason games. This year, CCS has cruised, even thrashing top-seeded Wayne Country Day 4-1 in Friday's first semifinal.

If they can beat Kerr-Vance on Saturday, it will have been quite a run for the Cyclones, who should be a contender again next spring with youngsters like Meredith Sharp, Greysen Smith, Jesslyn Boyette, Kathryn Smith and Tateyana Hurlbert a year older and wiser.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Report: Northern Guilford to lose 3-A boys basketball title

The Greensboro News and Recorded reported Wednesday that Northern Guilford has been stripped of its 3-A boys basketball title by the N.C. High School Athletic Association for using ineligible players.

Northern Guilford, in its second year, defeated defending state king Kinston in the 3-A East Regional final before outlasting Gastonia Forestview in the state championship in March.

The story alleges that two students on the Hawks roster were not in the school district. Additionally, the varsity baseball and wrestling team have been charged with using ineligible players.

News and Record staff writer Robert Bell also reported the NCHSAA is investigating other Guilford County schools as well.

This is nothing new in high school sports but it makes you wonder sometimes who is really attending the school to which they are assigned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nothing wrong with second place

When you play as well as you've been playing for most of the season and still lose, there's nothing to do but congratulate the victor.

That's what Fike boys golf head coach Jim Boykin Jr. and his Golden Demons did Tuesday after finishing second, six strokes behind Hickory in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A championship at Keith Hills Country Club in Buies Creek.

The Demons did their best to repeat as state champs, posting a final score of 594 — 15 strokes better than they did a year ago. But Hickory simply saved its best for the last round of the year. The Red Tornadoes shot a sizzling 290 Tuesday and a 588 for the 36-hole tournament.

Like a broken drum, you can't beat that. Hickory's top four scores posted a 6-under, with two eagles and two birdies among their six players, on the No. 18 hole.

I said here last week that if Fike continued its steady play, it would repeat as state champion. I was wrong but that takes nothing away from the Demons' season. Congratulations to those guys for another wonderful season and watch out for them again next year!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another happy day for UNC seniors

A little more than a month ago, the North Carolina Tar Heels and head coach Roy Williams were photographed countless times immediately after winning the NCAA championship with an 89-72 defeat of Michigan State in the tournament final.

Here's another photograph, sent today by UNC Sports Information Director Steve Kirschner, that will likely bring as much pride to these young men, their families and Coach Williams. It's the seven UNC seniors at Sunday's commencement ceremony in Kenan Stadium, along with teammate Marcus Ginyard, who was part of the signing class but opted for a medical redshirt fifth-year season.

This class won a school-record 124 games and lost just 21 times. They won three Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles, two ACC tournament titles and two NCAA regional championships.

The 2008-09 Tar Heels also won the Academic Progress Rate bracket compiled at the start of the NCAA tournament.

"We said they would have a chance to be successful on the court and have a chance to earn a degree from a great school," said Williams in the release. "We told them both of those come with hard work and dedication. I am so proud of what this class has accomplished in basketball and in the classroom. They have set a high standard for future Tar Heels and have been outstanding role models for student-athletes at all levels."

PHOTO CAPTION: University of North Carolina men's basketball seniors at 2009 Commencement at Kenan Stadium. (l-r) J.B. Tanner, Patrick Moody, Jack Wooten, Mike Copeland, Chancellor Holden Thorp, Tyler Hansbrough, head coach Roy Williams, Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard (photo by Jeffrey Camarati)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hail the Demons!

The Fike girls soccer team completed its four-year run through the 3-A NEW 6 Conference without a loss after Friday's 3-1 defeat of Rocky Mount in the tournament championship.

That's quite a feat to win 48 straight matches, many by lopsided scores. Granted, Rocky Mount made it interesting the past couple of years and nearly hung that first loss on the Golden Demons a couple of times. I remember back in 2006 when Fike blew past everyone, even slamming a pretty good Gryphons squad 10-0 in Wilson. Then Rocky Mount coach Patrick Sensiba intimated that Fike's dominance wouldn't last forever. He could be forgiven since that was the senior seasons of star players Sarah Winslow and Dillon Sauls. Winslow set a state scoring record that year before moving onto Wake Forest University and Sauls has become a standout at Barton College

But Toni Varacchi keeps churning out talented, college-bound players, many of whom show up at Fike with pretty strong skill sets, having gone through the Wilson Recreation Department and Wilson Youth Soccer Association ranks. But give Varacchi credit, she takes good players and makes them better.

The Demons' task will be more difficult over the next four years. The NEW 6 turns into the Big East Conference and outgoing member SouthWest Edgecombe is being replaced by Fike's archrival Hunt, which beat the Demons last year.

With Rocky Mount and Northern Nash always having strong programs, it may not be long before one of them finally gets Fike. But four years in a conference without a loss is pretty impressive and Fike can say it never lost a NEW 6 match.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who's ranked and who's not

With high school baseball, softball and girls soccer about to begin the state playoffs, here's a quick glance at who's ranked and who's not.

In the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association 3-A girls poll, Fike rose one spot to No. 6 this week while Hunt lurks just outside the top 15.

Fike (16-1-1) lost to No. 5 Asheville T.C. Roberson and tied 2-A No. 2 Swansboro at The Brittany. Hunt (15-2) lost to Jacksonville early in the season and Fike a few weeks ago. Both teams won their conference regular-season championships and with tonight's wins (Fike 4, Nash Central 0 — Hunt 3, Charles B. Aycock 0), advance to the tournament finals of the NEW 6 Conference and Eastern Carolina Conference, respectively.

The N.C. Softball Coaches Association lists Aycock at No. 4 in its 3-A state poll. The Golden Falcons' only loss came to No. 1 D.H. Conley early in the season and a rematch this week was rained out. Looks like second-year head coach Brad Matthews may have CBA back at Walnut Creek Softball Complex for the state final four after a two-year absence.

The IMPACT Baseball state poll, voted on by IMPACT staff, coaches and media, had a curious turn of events in the most recent poll released Monday. Previously unranked Charles B. Aycock rose to the No. 4 spot with a 17-5 record on the strength of its defeat of former No. 1 Eastern Wayne (16-3) now fifth, last week.

Not to denigrate CBA or its win against Eastern Wayne because the Falcons are always a dangerous club, but that kind of ascension is circumspect. And Aycock head coach Charles Davis will be the first to tell you that polls don't mean a thing. Having said that, it wouldn't surprise me if CBA wins the ECC tournament, set to begin Friday night after two rain delays.

In the IMPACT 1-A poll, North Johnston moved to second from fourth.

Finally a note from the N.C. High School Athletic Association spring meeting this week. The organization has voted to play girls and boys sectional basketball games on the same nights next winter. The old format had girls playing Monday, Wednesday and Friday and boys playing Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Now they will all play Monday, Wednesday, Friday and girls-boys doubleheaders will be encouraged to trim travel expenses.

Lots of area representation at the East-West All-Star football game

The rosters for the 2009 East-West All-Star boys soccer and football games have been released by the N.C. Coaches Association on its Web site.

While there will be no players from the Wilson area on the East boys soccer squad, the East football team will have a decidedly local flavor.

For starters, the East head coach is none other than SouthWest Edgecombe's Raymond Cobb whose staff will include Southern Nash's Brian Foster and Kenneth Grantham of Greene Central along with Grover Battle of Northern Nash, D.H. Conley's Ken Whitehurst and Jimmy Williams of East Wake.

Five players from the area — Beddingfield's Jumal Rolle, Fike's Rashad Parker, T.J. Batchelor of Southern Nash, SouthWest Edgecombe's Marquis Hines and DaRon Tripp of Greene Central — are on the East roster.

Also playing for the East are Nash Central speedster Danny Allen and the Rocky Mount duo of Nick Hahula and Torey Lee.

This is the biggest area representation in my five years at The Wilson Times and maybe the most ever.

Maybe we'll get some more players, such as Beddingfield's Shaniqua Clay or Southern Nash's Alyse Hall on the girls basketball team or Fike's Jeremy Atkinson for boys basketball and Tramicka James for girls soccer.

The remaining rosters should be out sometime this month and I'll have them here as soon as they do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bedgood shows skill at the net

Connor Bedgood was a three-sport standout during his days Fike High School earlier this decade. In fact, he concluded his high school career by being named The Wilson Daily Times Co-Athlete of the Year for his work on the soccer field, the basketball court and the baseball diamond.

Bedgood went on to a solid career as a defender for the Barton College soccer team and this spring he been an assistant coach for Fike girls soccer head coach Toni Varacchi. On Tuesday afternoon, Bedgood showed flashes of what could have been.

As the severe weather at first delayed, then later canceled Fike's match against Nash Central in the 3-A NEW 6 Conference girls soccer tournament, the teams waited it out in the Fike gym. The Golden Demons passed the time with a friendly, but spirited, intersquad volleyball match.

But as these photos attest, Bedgood provided food for thought that had Fike — and Barton — had men's volleyball, he could have well been a four-sport star. As you can see, he viciously attacked the net and laid down a sizzling kill. No one on the other side of the net, not even Varacchi, had an answer for it.

The Demons and Bulldogs will try again Wednesday at 5 p.m. with the Northern Nash-Rocky Mount match to follow. The championship game is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. Of course, the weather forecast suggests there may be more volleyball in Bedgood's immediate future.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A fresh new start

There's been a whole lotta changin' going on here at the Wilson Daily, er, Wilson Times.

New name, new print design, new Web site design, new hours — you name it, we've got something new. So not to be upstaged, I've got something new for this space — daily entries.

As always, the focus will be on the area sports scene and this time of year, there is plenty to discuss.

But I'll limit my observations today to a big pat on the back to the Fike High School boys golf team, which repeated as N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A East Regional king Monday. The Golden Demons, the defending state 3-A champions, won by a whopping 31 strokes over a pretty good Hunt team.

The Demons have won seven of the past nine regional titles while Hunt earned its 11th state tournament berth in 13 years.

Can Fike win another state title?

If they play as good as they did Monday at Maccripine Country Club near Pinetops, they certainly can. This is how good the Demons were. Five of the top 10 scores belonged to Fike players, including Bailey Rose's 76 which was good enough for an eighth-place finish. But Rose's round didn't even count towards Fike's team total of 293 which takes only the top four scores.

Sophomore Coalter Paxton, who shot a 71 at the 3-A NEW 6 Conference final round last week at Maccripine, carded an 81 Monday but that didn't slow Fike down. Spencer Whitt, who has struggled recently and didn't even count in the team score in the NEW 6 finale, reigned as regional medalist Monday.

Steady senior Ryan Yarbrough, along with Spencer Peterson and Mark Whitley — along with Drew Hinnant, who didn't even play Monday — give Demons head coach Jim Boykin Jr. the kind of depth coaches dream of in big tournaments.

I certainly haven't kept up with 3-A boys golf around the state this spring but if the steady rollin' Demons continue their good work, Fike better start looking for more room in its trophy case.