Eagles stun their way to tournament title
About two weeks ago, Western Harnett's baseball squad had a 5-11 record. On Saturday night on the Eagles' home field, although as the No. 4 seed in the Cape Fear Valley Conference Tournament, the Eagles were conference champions.
On Friday, the Eagles (11-11) will be hosting a first round game in the NCHSAA State Tournament.
With a 12-6 victory over No. 3 Union Pines (16-8), the Eagles celebrated the tournament title with a dogpile on the mound, followed by rain-delay style dives into left field, then after fairly formal team photos with the trophy, another dogpile in front of the scoreboard in left field.
Western Harnett plated five runs in the top of the first and led the whole way over the Vikings, scoring in six of seven frames a night after scoring in one inning, yet topping No. 1 Gray's Creek 10-9. The Eagles totaled 34 runs in the three tournament wins and have scored seven or more runs in each game of a six-game winning streak.
"We had a little bit of the jitters," said Western Harnett head coach Richard Seagroves a couple minutes after getting fully doused with the Gatorade bucket, which was after the second dogpile.
"So we couldn't have asked for a better start," Seagroves said.
Western Harnett capitalized on three walks and two Viking errors in the opening frame. Casey Smith, the second hitter in the Eagle order, singled and eventually scored on an error at shortstop.
D.J. Locklear and Trevor Williams drew bases-loaded walks with one out. Zach Taylor got an RBI with a fielder's choice grounder to second. Locklear dashed home on a wild pitch to make it 5-0.
The big lead right away aided senior pitcher Shane Godfrey. The Vikings put plenty of base runners on throughout against Godfrey, but he worked hard to stop any big innings.
Godfrey has not pitched a complete game this season, Seagroves said, but he took the Eagles into the seventh, going 6.1 innings, as three games in three nights taxes most any high school pitching staff. It was the fourth game in four nights for Union Pines.
Mason Collins homered leading off the Viking first. The lone run didn't mean much though as the Eagles kept adding to their lead.
Josh Genthe and Kenan Marion singled and came around to score making it 7-1 Eagles in the second inning. Genthe, the Eagle shortstop and a Coastal Carolina signee, drilled a homer over the right field fence making it 8-1 in the third.
Marion led off the Eagle fourth with a hit and eventually scored on a balk. In the fifth, Genthe and Smith reached base and Marion shot a triple to the corner in right for two RBI and an 11-3 Eagle lead.
The Vikings rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh. Marion moved from right field to the mound to get the last two outs.
Emmitt Carden went 2-for-2 with a run for the Vikings and Phillip Hall went 2-for-4 with two RBI.
The first three hitters in the Eagle order led the way. Genthe went 2-for-4 and scored three runs. Smith went 3-for-5 with three singles and scored twice. Marion went 3-for-3 with two walks, three runs and three RBI.
"The last six games, the guys have played very well," Seagroves said, "They've put the ball in play. We've gotten timely hitting and we've gotten great pitching."
Each win in the tournament was key to giving Western Harnett more confidence said two of the seniors.
Marion said beating county rival Overhills, 12-6, for a three-game season sweep, was important. Genthe said defeating top-seed Gray's Creek was a big step.
"That was a really big moment for me and my teammates," Genthe said. "It had been a long time since we'd beaten a number one team, or Gray's Creek. To beat a really good team like that, we deserved it."
"It's the first time we've been part of (a championship) in four years here," Marion said. "so it's a great feeling to get this far and then win it...It's my senior year, so I've been waiting for it for a long time."
The tournament title comes in Western Harnett's final baseball game as a Cape Fear Valley Conference member thanks to NCHSAA realignment for the 2013-14 school year.
Strangely, the CFVC season will not end with the tournament final. Southern Lee and Gray's Creek, co-champs of the regular season, will play a one-game playoff Monday at 6 p.m. at Western Harnett to determine the CFVC's No. 1 seed for the state tournament. The loser will drop to No. 3. Union Pines is the No. 4 seed.