Piedmont coach Milt Flow hasn’t played high school baseball since 1985. The year before, as a junior, his Panthers team won a state title. But on June 1, Flow looked like one of the fastest guys on the field at Zebulon’s Five County Stadium as he rushed out to congratulate Jonathan Caldwell for his two-RBI walk-off single that helped the Panthers defeat North Brunswick and earn the Class 2A championship.
“All I remember is I watched the (winning) run cross (the plate), and – bam! – I was going after Caldwell after that,” said Flow. “He had a perfect swing and a solid line drive. The last thing I remember was (the ball) going past second base.”
The win allowed the Panthers to sweep the best-of-three series and improve their record to 30-3 on the season. It also gave them their first state title in 29 years.
“It was such a great feeling,” said Flow. “We’d accomplished what we’d been working so hard for for such a long time.”
The Panthers started the championship series on solid footing after earning an emphatic 9-3 win in Game 1 on May 31. Cameron Price went 3-for-3 with a triple, a double, three RBIs and three runs. Hunter Purser also went 3-for-3, while Colby Barnette collected two hits.
On the mound, Corey Sikes improved to 11-0 with a complete-game win. The junior lefty regrouped after allowing four hits and three runs in the first inning to only surrender one hit over the next six innings.
“He’s just a crafty left-hander,” said Flow, who added that Sikes did a good job mixing up his fastball, curveball and changeup in the win.
“He’s been like that all season long. … He’s got such good location and such good command with all three pitches that he can keep you off balance because you don’t know (what he’s going to throw).”
Despite the convincing win, Flow said he felt it was important to finish the series in Game 2 on June 1 and not allow North Brunswick an opportunity to force a third game.
“Especially not (North Brunswick’s Scorpions) because we scouted them last weekend and they lost the first game of the (Eastern) Regionals and won the next two (games),” Flow said. “We saw them play, and I said, ‘Man, this is a scrappy team.’”
In Game 2, the Scorpions did their best to prove Flow’s theory. After the Panthers jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two innings, North Brunswick answered with a five-run third inning. The Panthers scored twice more in the fourth, but the Scorpions capitalized on a bunt, a balk and a squeeze bunt to take an 8-7 lead in the sixth inning.
“To tell you the truth, in my stomach, I was a little bit nervous,” said Flow. “But after being with these boys all season long, I was thinking, ‘We’ve still got a chance.’
“It just made me feel good to look at them because there wasn’t anybody hanging their heads. They were just confident in themselves. When I saw that in their eyes, I wasn’t nervous. I said, ‘These boys know what to do.’”
Barnette and Hunter Jones each singled in the bottom of the seventh, and a Nigel Hester walk loaded the bases for Caldwell, whose single to right gave the Panthers the 9-8 win and the 2A title.
Barnette added three hits in Game 2 and earned the win after entering the game in the sixth inning. Hunter Jones hit safely twice. Price was named the series’ Most Valuable Player. He added three hits and three RBIs in Game 2 and pitched the first five innings.
The performance capped a torrid postseason for Price. The center fielder went 5-for-10 with seven RBIs in the Panthers’ Western Regional series against Sylva Smoky Mountain and added three doubles, a triple and six RBIs in the state championship series.
“We said, ‘The ball must’ve looked like a beach ball coming into him,’” Flow said of Price. “He really carried us hitting. He really came on in the playoffs with his bat.”
While Price’s contributions were invaluable, Flow said the team benefitted from different players stepping up all season.
“It’s been somebody different every game that’s contributed and helped us get the wins. That’s another thing that’s made this team so special: It hasn’t been just one guy carrying us.”
After the game, Flow sat with assistant coaches Brian Little and Gary Poplin, who each played on the Panthers’ 1984 championship team with him, and watched his players celebrate.
“We were sitting there looking around, and we were enjoying this (championship) more than we did that one (in 1984),” said Flow. “Now we’re older, more mature and understand what it took to get there, and we know how special of a moment it is.
“It was a real special moment, just to be able to sit back and think about that and be proud of them.”