For a while, it appeared as though the final out of the Class 3A state championship series between Greenville D.H. Conley and Weddington might never be recorded. But when the raucous Game 3 affair was finished late on June 1, Weddington had taken a 17-14 victory and Warriors coach Travis Poole stayed on his top-step perch of the visitors’ dugout at Greensboro’s NewBridge Bank Park and watched his players celebrate their second consecutive Class 3A title.
It was the same reaction Poole had last season, when Weddington won the school’s first state title. But the thoughts going through his mind this time were different.
“From the pitchers who didn’t pitch a lot to the guys who didn’t play many innings all year long, every one of them were pulling for each other the entire time,” said Poole. “That says a lot for the character of those kids.”
As they had been all season, the Warriors were tested in the final three-game series against D.H. Conley. After cruising to a 12-5 win to open the title series on May 31, Weddington dropped Game 2, 7-6, despite a strong performance from pitcher/outfielder Sean Collins (five RBIs).
While Game 3 was scheduled for 8 p.m. last Saturday, the first pitch didn’t take place until roughly 9:40 p.m. after a high-scoring Class 1A final that began at 5 p.m.
The Warriors’ bats didn’t suffer from the layoff, however, as Weddington tallied 10 runs in the first five innings. Conley answered with seven runs of its own, but Weddington appeared to pull away after plating seven more runs in the seventh.
Conley, though, wasn’t finished. The Vikings scored seven runs of their own and had the tying run at the plate before Warrior freshman pitcher Tyler Penner recorded the final out of the season.
Looking back, Poole said his team was well equipped to deal with such a gut-wrenching series after tallying three one-run playoff wins, including an 8-7 come-from-behind victory over Hickory in the Western Regional finals after trailing 6-0.
“The resilience of the kids was there,” said Poole. “They weren’t going to quit. We were going to keep battling. We were fortunate to be able to outscore them.”
The key, said Poole, was the Warriors’ ability to collect hits and score runs. In their three games against Conley, the Warriors tallied 37 hits and scored 34 runs. Even in the Game 2 loss, the Warriors had 11 hits and scored six runs against Conley’s ace pitcher, Davis Kirkpatrick, an East Carolina University recruit. On the season, Kirkpatrick hadn’t allowed more than three hits in a game.
“We got hot at the right time with the bats,” said Poole.
In the three games, Jeff Welch was 8-for-11 with three RBIs and six runs. Alex Bostic was 5-for-11 with a home run, two doubles, six RBIs, three runs and five walks. Collins added two more RBIs to bring his series total to seven and was 3-for-8 at the plate with a home run, a double and a pair of sacrifice flies. Second baseman Davis Norred added four RBIs, while Landon Kay was 3-for-9 with a double.
Junior shortstop Daniel Calabretta, the series’ Most Valuable Player, was 8-for-12 in the three games. In Game 3, Calabretta, a Duke recruit, hit for the cycle (recording a home run, a triple, a double and a single). He added three RBIs, eight runs, two stolen bases and two walks in the series.
Senior Chris Simpson also was impressive, going 6-for-9 at the plate with a triple, two doubles and five walks. He also reached base on 13 of his 14 plate appearances and scored 12 runs.
Pitcher Josh Islam recorded the Game 1 win, while Penner was credited with the victory in Game 3.
After starting the season with a 1-4 record, the Warriors finished 25-11. At times, said Poole, the goal of repeating as state champions seemed like a long shot for his club. But in the regular-season’s final series against rival Marvin Ridge, Poole began to see some encouraging signs, even though they dropped two of the three games.
“I saw no quit in them,” Poole said. “I saw them keep battling, they played in close games. They didn’t implode in those close games.”
Which made the view of the players’ Game 3 celebration from the dugout that much sweeter.
“I was so overwhelmed by how this group did what they did with, at times, less talent than the opposing team,” said Poole. “I won’t say less heart, but less talent. I don’t think many teams had as much heart as the group I had.”