Friday, July 24, 2009

Jones headed to Oklahoma

I'm on the road, blogging from beautiful, sunny Palo Alto, Calif., home of Stanford University and birthplace of Hewlett-Packard (and the Grateful Dead!). But I've still got an item, thanks to former Wilson Times colleague Nick Livingston, now in Lawton, Okla.

Donovan Jones, former Greenfield School star, will transfer from UNC-Asheville to NCAA Division II member Cameron University. Jones earned a spot on the Big South Conference All-Rookie team but injuries decimated his sophomore season.

Glad to hear Donovan is back on his feet and going to continue his collegiate career. He had to overcome a devastating leg injury in the summer before his senior season at Greenfield and remains one of the most intense competitors I've had the privilege of covering.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thanks for the memories, Post 13

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted for Post 13.

The Wilson nine bowed out of the American Legion baseball playoffs Friday night with an 11-10 loss in the decisive game 5 of their Area One Eastern Division championship series against Rocky Mount Post 58. Probably a little painful for Post 13 to take about now considering they were up 2-0 in the series and had a 10-8 lead going into the bottom of the ninth Friday night.

But Rocky Mount is just one tough team from which to get three outs in a row. Post 58 showed exactly how formidable its bats could be with a 32-5 thrashing it laid on Wilson in game 3. Rocky Mount scored 59 runs in its last three games, easily overcoming what some of its supporters told me was its shaky pitching staff.

I didn't think Post 58's pitching was that bad but it wasn't spectacular. Still, as true as is the common thinking in baseball that pitching wins pennants, hitting is more likely to win American Legion state championships. Assuming Rocky Mount gets past Cary Post 67 in the Area One finals, I have to like Post 58's chances in the state tournament in Greenville.

That black-and-red-clad crowd wields some pretty mean metal, especially in the cozy confines of the Northern Nash High School field, where Rocky Mount plays its home games. But even if Post 58 played in cavernous Fleming Stadium, they'd just have more doubles instead of home runs.

None of this will mean much to the Wilson players and coaches now but they had a heckuva season. One that began with four straight losses and ended with three straight losses. But in between there were some memorable moments as Wilson went deeper than anyone would have imagined at the beginning of the season.

For any team from Wilson, losing to Rocky Mount is never fun (and it definitely goes both ways) but I guess the Post 13 players from Fike are even more disappointed. After all, this series was in some way a continuation of that great Fike-Rocky Mount High rivalry from the 2008 high school season. The Gryphons and Golden Demons (which included Post 13 players Bentley Massey, Zac Crumpler, Tripp Sauls, David Gibbons, Michael McLawhorn and Mitchell Wheeler) had some great matchups but Rocky Mount got the last laugh with a playoff win on its way to the state 3-A championship.

Now it seems Rocky Mount might get a chance to win an American Legion state title, or at the very least, play for one.

But Wilson players showed their mettle and a few, such as Wheeler and Zack Lee, demonstrated abilities that could very well carry over into a career at the collegiate level. The ones that are already college will take back valuable lessons from the summer, which ended up being a memorable one after all.

Now I'm out of here for a couple of weeks for my long-awaited vacation but I will be checking in from time-to-time as we get ready for football season. Can you believe high schools can start practice two weeks from today?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crazy stuff happens in Legion playoffs

What is it about game 3 of an American Legion baseball playoff series?

On Wednesday night, Wilson Post 13 was humbled 32-5 by Rocky Mount Post 58 in game 3 of their Area One Eastern Division championship series. It was a very uncharacteristic (and historical) loss for Post 13, which still has the upper hand after winning the first two games of the series. No one, including Post 13 General Manager Bob Walston in his 24th season with the program, can remember such a brutal loss for Wilson.

Rocky Mount possesses a powerful offense, averaging double-digit scoring in its regular-season home games. But Wednesday night was ridiculous. Post 58 swatted five home runs, including three by right fielder T.J. Taylor who ended up with eight RBIs. Catcher Ben Fish, an all-state player at Rocky Mount High and headed to Division I Elon University on a scholarship, cracked the other two longballs and had seven RBIs. You'd expect that output from Fish and some of the other Post 58 heavy hitters.

"Yeah, but not from me," Taylor said after the game.

Granted some, if not most, of those homers (including Wilson third baseman Mitchell Wheeler's solo shot in the second) probably would have not left Fleming Stadium. But in the cozy confines of Northern Nash High School's field, they ended up in the pine trees hugging the outfield fence.

It was just that kind of night for Rocky Mount, who looked better at the plate than most teams do in batting practice. Wilson starter Richard Carr, who has been solid in a relief role all season, struggled with control early and then Post 58 made him pay for his later accurate deliveries. Wilson head coach Rusty Dail sent Alex Howard, Michael McLawhorn and Tripp Sauls to the mound but each ended up giving up at least one run.

The craziness of the night made me recall another game 3 in which Post 13 was involved three years ago during the second round of the playoffs. Under a bulging full moon on the Fike diamond, Wilson dropped a 27-21 decision to Edenton Post 40 and I was there for every pitch. I was there for every pitch Wednesday night but I have to admit that during the 40-minute bottom of the third, I was tempted to drive back to Wilson to catch a little of the Tobs game.

But for all those runs, the scoreboard will read 0-0 at the beginning of Thursday's game 4 in Fleming Stadium. With Wilson sending No. 1 starter Justin Nygard (and No. 2 Bentley Massey ready for game 5 if necessary) to the mound, I still think Post 13 is in the driver's seat.

However, the winner of this series won't be guaranteed a spot in the state tournament. In the past, the winner of the Eastern and Western Divisions met for a purely ceremonial best-of-5 series since the top two teams from each of the four areas advanced to the state tournament. Not so for Area One this season which has an automatic bid going to Pitt County Post 39 for being the state tournament host.

So Wilson will have to win one more series, against either Cary Post 67 or Durham Post 7, to claim the Area One title and land in the state tournament for the first time since the N.C. American Legion went to that format. And Post 13 will have to do it without the services of its leading hitter, David Gibbons, who is currently on a cruise ship. The trip was a graduation present, apparently, and booked well before the season began.

I wonder if David is wishing he were back here for the rest of the series but I can't blame him. After all, I doubt there are many folks who predicted Post 13 would still be playing this late in the summer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Report: Atkinson signs with Louisburg

I was told today by a reliable source that Jeremy Atkinson will not sign a basketball scholarship offer from Barton College but has signed to play with Louisburg College.

Atkinson, who scored 2,001 points during his Fike career, told me a week ago he was planning to sign with NCAA Division II Barton but apparently has changed his mind in favor of Louisburg of the National Junior College Athletic Association ranks. I guess he's hoping to land a Div. I scholarship in two years.

Look for Tom Ham to have a story on this as well as a story on all the changes in the Fike athletic department this summer.

Sports on TV are tough to watch at times

I was surprised the Major League Baseball All-Star Game didn't end sometime Wednesday morning. The game, a 4-3 win by the American League, finished in a respectable 2 hours, 31 minutes which made it only slightly longer than the pregame fluff.

You know, I'm all for having the all-stars introduced one-by-one before the game and it's great the President of the United States can throw out the first pitch (by the way, President Obama definitely takes a back seat to his predecessor when it comes to tossing the ol' horsehide!), but the production by Fox Sports was too much to stomach at times.

The introduction of the broadcast was melodramatic, to say the least, with the poignant background music and voiceover proclaiming baseball's virtues. The telecast began at 8 p.m. but the game didn't start until nearly 9.

This might sound like a weird thing to say since I'm the sports editor, but I've gotten to the point where I can barely stand to watch sports on TV. For one thing, because I'm either out covering an event or working on the desk, I rarely have the opportunity to watch a game on the television and when I'm not working, I usually have other things to do besides watch sports on TV — unless it's a pretty big event. Atlantic Coast Conference basketball remains an exception, for the most part.

This is somewhat ironic because I used to watch sports on TV nearly all the time before I became a sports writer. I went from watching three editions of ESPN's Sportscenter daily to watching it once every 6 months. However, one thing I've gleaned by watching ESPN Classic is how much televised sports has changed over the years. When I was a kid in the 1970s, the broadcast began with a few minutes of the broadcasters talking then straight to the game and when it ended, maybe an interview and that was it.

Now you've got to endure so much hype that it numbs me to the event. And the latest thing, these onfield postgame interviews — especially after a championship contest — conducted over the stadium PA system, drives me batty. It's lame. It's goofy.

While I appreciate the up-to-the-second graphics offered by the modern product compared to the sparse graphical information one would get 30 years ago, sometimes it's too much. I actually enjoy listening to a game on the radio, no matter the sport, more these days than watching on TV. I just wish radio announcers would get in the habit of giving the score every 30-60 seconds since you never know when someone just tuned in.

Anyway, that's my midsummer rant. How about that Post 13 baseball team one win away from its first American Legion Area One Eastern Division title since 1990?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Big win for Wilson in Area One semifinals opener

I have to say I was a little surprised at the ease with which Wilson Post 13 rattled Rocky Mount Post 58 pitching Sunday night in Wilson's 14-9 win in the first game of their American Legion baseball Area One Eastern Division finals series.

Post 13 slammed 18 hits, including a season-best 5-for-5 night by designated hitter Zac Crumpler, who is coming off his redshirt freshman season at Barton College. Crumpler's Bulldogs — and former Fike High School — teammate Bentley Massey did the job on the mound for Wilson even though he wasn't overpowering. Massey — who was shaky in his last outing, a 9-4 win over Kinston Post 43 in game 2 of the previous series — managed to get through 7 1/3 innings with just five hits allowed. Rocky Mount, which had been averaging almost 16 runs per game at home this season, couldn't get the balls to fall Sunday at Northern Nash High School. Several times, Post 58 batters lasered shots off Massey but Wilson outfielders Seth Wiggs, David Gibbons and Zack Lee came up with the catches.

And Wilson just continued its hit parade, nicking Post 58 starter Dillon Cockrell, who suffered his first loss, and two more pitchers for at least a run in seven of nine innings.Wilson got a hit in every inning but the third and went 7 for 21 with runners in scoring position.

Plus, Wilson's only error — on a pickoff throw to first base in the first inning — allowed an unearned run to score but that was it.

Post 13 had to win this game to have a shot to win this series. Rocky Mount pitching, I am told, isn't its strong suit but a win against Cockrell, Post 58's No. 1 starter, has to help Wilson's confidence, especially with its No. 1, Justin Nygard, only available for one start in this series.

Right-hander Kyle Shields will get the call Monday night at Fike High School with Brandon Denton likely to start for Rocky Mount. Wilson's game 3 starter is anyone's guess with Richard Carr throwing seven innings in game 4 against Kinston on Thursday night.

Even if Carr pitches Tuesday on three days rest, Post 13 head coach Rusty Dail is going to have to look for someone else to help out. Massey threw 102 pitches Sunday and could be ready for game 5 but that means Nygard will have to go Wednesday.

Mitchell Wheeler has been a serviceable bullpen option for Wilson but he was taken to task in the ninth inning by some frustrated Rocky Mount hitters. Other mound options could be Tripp Sauls, Chris Johnson or even Zack Lee, who has pitched very little this summer despite a solid spring at Hunt.

As Lee said, almost too obviously, following Sunday's game: "We outscored 'em and that's what we're going to have to do every game this series."

Wilson might have to hit well to keep up with Rocky Mount but a couple more strong pitching performances could be what it needs to advance to its first Area One championship series since 1990.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It's Rocky Mount vs. Wilson again

With Wilson Post 13's 6-3 win Friday at Kinston Post 43 in game 5 of the American Legion baseball Area One Eastern Division semifinals, a classic matchup has been set for the best-of 5 Eastern finals series.

Rocky Mount Post 58 (although technically, it's Nash County Coleman-Pitt Post 58 but we like 'Rocky Mount' better), the North Conference champion, will meet Wilson, beginning Sunday night at Northern Nash High School.

Neither post has had a particularly successful history. Wilson's last trip to the Area One Eastern Division finals was in 2004. Its last Eastern crown was in 1990. Wilson's only Area One title came in 1980 but Post 13 did win N.C. American Legion East championships in 1941 and '42 (prior to the start of Area One). Wilson lost to Shelby Post 82 in the '42 state championship series, three games to two.

Rocky Mount won its only American Legion state championship in 1973 and played in the East championship in 1959 and 1962. Rocky Mount's last trip to the Area One Eastern finals was 1995. Post 58's last Area One title was in 1986 when it successfully defended its crown.

This year, Wilson is 14-10 and has won 9 of its last 11 games but was handed consecutive defeats, 12-2 and 14-3, by Post 58. Those were Post 13's only North Conference losses.

Rocky Mount, which has won eight straight, is 14-2 with its only defeats coming at the hands of New Bern and Edenton, which it swept in the Eastern Division semifinals this past week. Post 58 was averaging 16 runs per game at home until its last win, a 6-4 series-clinching victory over Edenton on Wednesday.

Thanks to Charles Alston for the factoids on Post 58 and let's look forward to a good series!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Crumpler, Sauls get the last laugh for Post 13

The Wilson American Legion Post 13 baseball team just keeps rolling along as it downed Kinston Post 43 9-4 for its eighth straight win Tuesday night in Fleming Stadium.

The last five victories have come in the Area One Eastern Division playoffs with Wilson just a win away from moving into the Eastern Division finals.

I stopped by Fleming on Tuesday to shoot a few photographs while senior staff writer Tom Ham handled the story. I left after the fifth inning with the score tied 4-4. Later, I was happy to hear that a couple of the guys with the big hits for Post 13 were Zac Crumpler and Tripp Sauls, both of whom struggled at the plate early.

Crumpler struck out his first two at-bats and then pulverized a double off the base of the left-center field wall to start the fifth. But he was thrown out trying to advance to third on an infield grounder by Mitchell Wheeler, completing a double play that vaporized Wilson's would-be rally.

But Crumpler more than atoned by smashing a two-run homer in Wilson's three-run seventh, scoring Sauls who had doubled in the go-ahead run.

Earlier in the game, Sauls had blasted what looked like a homer to left field but it curved foul just as he was approaching second. In disbelief, he returned to the batter's box where he ended up striking out.

Both these guys have had solid summers and are big reasons Post 13 is in position to go where it hasn't been in anyone's memory — the third round of the playoffs. Head coach Rusty Dail has seemed to find the right mix of players at the right time and it's paying off for Post 13.

Kyle Shields gets the call on the mound Wednesday night as the series returns to Kinston with Wilson eyeing its second straight sweep.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gryphons hire new football coach

My good friend Charles Alston let me know Monday morning that Rocky Mount High School has a new football coach. Richard "Dickie" Schock will succeed his former mentor, B.W. Holt, who announced his retirement last month.

Schock not only played for Holt at Starmount High but served as an assistant twice, most recently during the 2003 season, Holt's first at Rocky Mount. Schock, an Appalachian State University graduate, spent the last two seasons as head coach at Hillsborough Orange High where he was named coach of the year in the 2-A Mid-State Conference and by the Durham Herald-Sun last season.

Schock will be the third first-year coach in the 3-A Big East Conference, joining Fike's Kim Brown and Northern Nash's Mickey Crouch. Nash Central's Kevin Crudup will be in his second season leaving Southern Nash's Brian Foster and Randy Raper of conference newcomer Hunt as the elder statesmen in the group.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Familiar powers eliminated from Area One playoffs

Wayne County Post 11 was eliminated by Edenton Post 40 7-4 in game 5 of their Area One Eastern Division first-round playoff series Saturday night. Wayne was the two-time defending Eastern Division as well as Area One champion.

With Pitt County Post 39 losing in the first round, that means for the first time since Snow Hill won it in 2003 there will be an Eastern Division champion besides Pitt Post 39 or Wayne Post 11.

Also, with Garner out of the Western Division playoffs, that means for the first time since North Raleigh beat Snow Hill in 2003 there will be an Area One king besides Pitt Post 39, Wayne County or Garner.

The Western Division semifinals have No. 6 seed Clayton Post 71 taking on top-seeded Durham Post 7 and No. 2 Cary Post 67 meeting North Raleigh Post 297.

The semifinals begin Monday night.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two-time Wayne Co. survives another day

Wayne County Post 11, the two-time defending American Legion baseball Area One Eastern Division champion, kept its season alive with a 6-3 win in 11 innings at Edenton Post 40 on Friday night.

The teams will convene at Mount Olive College's Scarborough Field for the decisive game 5 of the first-round Eastern Division series on Saturday night. The winner will take on North Conference champion in the Eastern semifinals, which begin Monday. Wilson Post 13 and Kinston Post 43 are in the other semifinals.

For more on Wayne County Post 11, check out Keith Waters blog. If anyone started one like Keith's for Wilson, I might be out of business.

NCPreps.com releases 2009 state baseball and softball stats

NCPreps.com has posted the final 2009 high school baseball and softball statistics.

Hunt senior Jake Strickland tied for 15th in RBIs with 36 but wasn't listed in the home run totals. Strickland ended with 11 which should have tied him for fifth. I've notified NCPreps.com of the oversight so hopefully it will be amended.

Unbelievable video

Here's a few hard-to-believe videos circulating around the Internet involving some impressive (if they're for real) tricks done with various sporting goods.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Josh Womack's Crazy Bat Tricks

Golf Shot Party Tricks

EMBED-Hot Girl Pulls Off Insane Golf Trick Shot - Watch more free videos

Best Backyard Trick Shots of the Year

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lofton's contributions memorable to Wilson athletic community

The obituaries in the Thursday, July 2, 2009, edition of The Wilson Times list the passing on Sunday of Thomas Lofton Sr. An educator and coach for more than three decades, Lofton's influence on the Wilson athletic community was considerable.

He coached Darden High School to the N.C. High School Athletic Conference state football championship in 1964. This was during the segregation era. After integration, Lofton moved over to Fike where he later became the assistant principal. He ended his career as principal at Elvie Street Elementary School. He was inducted into the Darden Alumni Hall of Fame last year.

His wife, Yvonne, was my second-grade teacher at B.O. Barnes Elementary in 1973-74.

There's no telling how many young people's lives Mr. Lofton impacted during his career. Certainly his tenure at Darden and Fike helped make for a smoother transition during the uneasy period from segregated schools to integration.

Thoughts and prayers go out to his family for the loss of Mr. Lofton.